WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama formally vetoed legislation authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on Tuesday, the latest development in what has become an ongoing standoff between him and congressional Republicans over approval of the controversial pipeline.
This is only the third veto of Obama’s presidency, but it’s likely not the last. Congressional Republicans are poised to send a number of other measures to Obama’s desk that he is expected to reject, including changes to his signature health care reform law.
Obama vetoed the bill on Tuesday afternoon, hours after it was sent over from the Hill. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in the day’s press briefing that the president planned to veto it “without any drama or fanfare or delay.”
“The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously,” Obama wrote in a veto message he sent back to the Senate. “But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people. And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto.”
The House passed the measure authorizing construction of the pipeline on Feb. 11, two weeks after the Senate approved the same legislation. Congressional Republicansheld a signing ceremony and waited until after the weeklong Presidents Day recess to send it to Obama’s desk.
The White House had repeatedly threatened to veto the legislation, arguing that it preempted an ongoing process at the Department of State to evaluate whether the pipeline should be constructed. Because the proposed pipeline crosses an international border, the department can decide whether to grant a permit for the project. Comments from other federal agencies were due in early February, and the State Department is expected to issue its decision sometime in the coming weeks.
If the secretary of state and president decide the pipeline is in the national interest, they will issue a permit to TransCanada, the company seeking to build the pipeline, allowing it to move forward with construction. The bill from Congress, however, would buck the “longstanding process for evaluating whether projects like this are in the best interests of the country,” Earnest said Tuesday.
But Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have accused the president of taking too long to make a decision on the proposed pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas. Nine Senate Democrats and 29 House Democrats voted for the bill. “After 2,349 days, time is about to be up for President Obama’s dodge on the Keystone XL pipeline,” the Republican leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said in a press release Tuesday, shortly after sending the bill to the president’s desk.
Even with the bill vetoed, Keystone is expected to be a recurring theme for Republican leadership. There are not enough votes to override the veto at this point, however.
Environmental groups, which have been urging the president to veto the bill and reject the pipeline permit altogether, celebrated the veto. “This misguided Keystone XL bill, pushed by the fossil fuel industry, has met its just and expected doom,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “The president got it exactly right by vetoing it.”