While much of the political world obsesses over Twitter fights and Seamus the dog, Barack Obama has set himself up for a high-profile defeat on one of the most important issues of the campaign.
The president has put his feet in cement in opposing the proposed Keystone pipeline, which would bring newly discovered oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. In a contentious debate, Obama has sided with environmentalists, who fear an accident along a line carrying 700,000 barrels of oil into the U.S. might threaten water supplies. But on Capitol Hill, more and more Democrats are joining Republicans to force approval of the pipeline, whether or not Obama wants it.
The latest action happened last week, when the House passed a measure to move the pipeline forward. Before the vote, Obama issued a veto threat. The House approved the pipeline anyway -- by a veto-proof majority, 293-127. Sixty-nine Democrats abandoned the president to vote with Republicans. That's a lot of defections.
When the House voted on the pipeline in July of last year, 47 Democrats broke with the president. Now that it's an election year and the number is up to 69, look for Republicans to hold more pipeline votes before November. GOP leaders expect even more Democrats to join them.
Then there is the Senate. Democrats are using the filibuster to stop the pipeline, which means 60 votes are required to pass it. (Some Democrats who bitterly opposed the filibuster when Republicans used it against Obama initiatives are notably silent these days.) In a vote last month, 11 Senate Democrats stood up against Obama to vote in favor of the pipeline. Add those 11 to the Republicans' 47 votes, and the pro-pipeline forces are just a couple of votes away from breaking Majority Leader Harry Reid's filibuster.
"We're right around the corner from actually passing it," a well-informed Senate source says. "Two-hundred-ninety-three votes in the House is a gigantic number. People want this thing."
The president didn't help his cause when he staged an odd photo op last month, delivering a speech in Cushing, Okla., in front of huge stockpiles of pipes. Obama sang the praises of pipelines -- "It is critical that we make pipeline infrastructure a top priority," he said -- and made a big deal of his approval of a section of domestic pipeline that didn't need his approval. But he remained unyielding on Keystone.
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