U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama answers a question at a news conference at the conclusion of the NATO Summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales September 5, 2014. Reuters

With the White House making it clear that President Obama would veto any bill authorising construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, an open clash between President Obama and House Republicans looks imminent. The intent of Republicans to take on the president was evident In the statement of senator Mitch McConnell, the new leader, "the news of President threatening to veto the first bipartisan infrastructure bill of the new Congress must shock the American people who spoke loudly in November in favour of bipartisan accomplishments."

The 1,179-mile Keystone XL oil pipeline is supposed to carry 830,000 barrels of petroleum a day from the oil sands of western Canada to the oil refineries in Texas. The project enjoys bipartisan support in Congress besides considerable public interest in it, reported Christian Science Monitor. In the aftermath of the 2014 elections, speculations were rife that the new Congress could have a veto-proof majority to push Keystone XL bill if Republicans could add sufficient "sweeteners" to bring along enough Democratic votes in both the chambers.

Flash Point

The House is expected to pass the bill on Friday with the Senate readying to debate the measure after Jan 12. The Senate Republicans on Thursday advanced the bill to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The Republican-led Senate Energy Committee approved the measure on a 13-9 vote and sent it to the full Senate for consideration, reported Reuters.

The Keystone pipeline has become a flash point in the political war between Republicans and Democrats, in the last four years. The legislation proposed by Republicans seeks to take away Mr Obama's authority in taking a final decision on the pipeline. The president enjoys the power because it is a trans border project. Obama had been avoiding a decision on its approval, citing the ongoing environmental review by the State Department, which has been held up because a Nebraska court is yet to give its verdict on a case relating to the route of the pipeline.

According to White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, quoted by CSM, "I would not anticipate that the president would sign this legislation as there is a well-established process that shouldn't be changed by legislation." The environmentalists welcomed the stand of White House. "It's becoming more clear by the day that President Obama rightly recognises this dirty and dangerous tar sands pipeline as a bad deal for our country," said Michael Brune, Executive director of the Sierra Club.

Plan B

Republicans have been making similar efforts to push the project ever since the 2010 elections, but did not succeed as they had only the control of the House with their efforts getting died in the Senate. In the new senate, dominated by Republicans, there are at least 64 votes in favour of the pipeline. But they will need 67 votes to be veto proof. Now it remains to be seen, whether there would be sufficient support for Republicans in overriding the president's veto. If the bill is vetoed, Republican lawmakers will still try to corner the president by attaching Keystone to a must-pass spending bill or some other importbnt legislation that may make Mr Obama really hard to reject the project, reported Reuters.

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