Senate Democrats on Tuesday rejected legislation that would have approved the Keystone XL pipeline, in a vote that will likely be the last victory on this issue for Senate Democrats before Republicans take over the Senate next year.
The vote was arranged in a last-minute attempt by Democrats to create a positive story for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who supports the pipeline and faces a runoff election in early December. Even with the vote, she's expected to lose that race.
While Democratic leaders agreed to help Landrieu by allowing a vote, they made it very difficult for the bill to pass — they insisted on 60 "yes" votes instead of just a simple majority.
The Senate fell just short of that threshold, as the final tally was 59-41.
Passage required fifteen Democrats and Independents to support the bill, along with all 45 Republicans. But in the end, only 14 Democrats voted "yes" — they were Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jon Tester (Mont.), John Walsh (Mont.) and Mark Warner (Va.).
Supporters were hoping to get Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Angus King (I-Vt.) to vote for the bill, but they each indicated they were against the legislation in the final hours before the vote.
Despite its failure in the Senate, the vote reveals the bipartisan support that exists for the pipeline, a project many consider to be a non-controversial issue that has been blown out of proportion by environmentalists.
The Senate is expected to try again next year when Republicans run the Senate, a factor that will make its passage much more likely. Immediately after the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Keystone would come up again "very early" next year.
Senators voted after a six-hour debate that stretched throughout the day, in which most Democrats spoke against the bill. Landrieu clashed repeatedly with her Democratic colleagues, a role she seemed resigned to play in an effort to show her independence before a race that is expected to go to her Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.).
When Democrats said environmental studies still need to be completed on Keystone, Landrieu rejected those arguments.
"They are wrong," she said as she waved an environmental review in the air. "It's is factually incorrect that the environmental studies have not been completed, because I have it in my hands."
Landrieu spent several minutes in front of a chart showing the millions of miles of pipeline that already exist in the United States. She said there's little reason to fear an additional pipeline, and said environmentalists and Democrats were trying to make Keystone into the "boogeyman that's going to wreck the world."
But most Democrats refused to budge, and argued that the environmental dangers were far too great to vote for the pipeline. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) had an alarmist reaction to the project, and said it should be "out of bounds" given how destructive it would be.
"Every dollar that we spend today on developing and using more fossil fuels is another dollar spent in digging the graves of our grandchildren," he warned.
Harkin was joined by other Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.):
I oppose Keystone XL, an ill-conceived project locking us into further dependence on some of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet.
— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) November 18, 2014
The House approved the identical Keystone bill last week, with the help of 31 Democrats. But without passage in the Senate, the bill will not be sent to the White House for President Barack Obama's consideration.
Earlier in the day, White House spokesman Josh Earnest repeated that Obama wants the government's approval process to finish, a clear sign that Obama would have vetoed the bill anyway.