Senate Democrats on Wednesday agreed to reverse their position and allow a vote next week on legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, a decision they made in order to help Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) keep her Senate seat.
Landrieu's is the last unclaimed Senate seat after a midterm election that saw widespread Republican victories. She'll face Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) in a runoff election on Dec. 6, and is expected to lose that race.
Landrieu is a longtime supporter of the Keystone pipeline, and spent several months trying to convince Democratic leaders to hold a vote on the project, which will let Canadian oil be moved to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
While many Democrats support the pipeline, Democratic leaders have viewed it as a Republican priority that the Obama administration opposes. For that reason, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had blocked Senate consideration of Landrieu's bill to approve the pipeline.
But that calculation changed last week in light of the need for a Landrieu runoff. Republicans crushed Democrats in the midterm elections, and will occupy 53 seats next year — 54 if they win Landrieu's seat.
To give her a boost, Democratic leaders Wednesday suddenly agreed to the vote in the hopes of giving Landrieu a victory that she can bring back to voters in her state.
Late in the day, and after earlier debate on Keystone, Landrieu asked for unanimous consent to hold debate Keystone for six hours on Tuesday, and then hold the vote. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) asked to modify that request so that if the House passes identical legislation, the bill would move quickly to President Barack Obama's desk.
No one objected to that arrangement, and it was quickly agreed by unanimous consent.
Agreeing to a vote is not a big concession from Democrats at this point, as Republicans have said they would bring up Keystone early next year. That means there's even more reason to hold the vote now, when doing so might help Landrieu.
But it shows that Democrats only blocked a vote earlier this year for political reasons, and are only holding the vote now for different political reasons. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called out the Democrats on Wednesday for what he said was a brazen political move.
"For years, Senate Democrats have stood in the way of all of these bills," he said. "It is pathetic, but not surprising, that our economic and energy future is being dictated by Senate Democrats who are only attempting to limit the electoral damage from last week."
It's also not clear the strategy will work. Landrieu and other Democrats collected a total of about 43 percent of the vote in Louisiana, while Cassidy and Republicans collected the remaining 57 percent. If those numbers hold steady, Landrieu looks like she'll be defeated by more than 10 points in the runoff election.
In calling for the vote, Landrieu and other Democrats didn't say the they wanted it in order to help them win the last remaining Senate seat. Instead, Democrats said holding the vote now would let the Senate get an early jump on the bipartisanship that both parties have promised in light of the midterm elections.
"I don't think we have to necessarily wait until January," Landrieu said. "There are some of us who have been ready, that have worked in a bipartisan way, literally for years, getting really important things done for our nation."
Landrieu was joined on the Senate floor by other Democrats who supported the vote for similar reasons, including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).
In the House, GOP leaders were preparing to move Cassidy's own bill to approve the Keystone pipeline, which Landrieu said is identical to her bill.