In the latest House vote, the pipeline measure is attached to a larger transportation bill. That now goes to a conference with the Senate, which has passed a version of the transportation measure without the Keystone provision. It's not clear whether the pipeline will end up in the final bill. But it is certain that, whatever happens, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will force another vote on Keystone sometime soon.
If the pipeline wins those last couple of Senate Democrats, then Obama will be faced with a bill that passed with a veto-proof majority in the House and over a Democratic filibuster in the Senate. The president would be forced either to make good on his veto threat or sign a bill moving the pipeline forward.
If he signs the bill, Obama would surely try to save face by claiming his concerns about the pipeline's routing and approval process had been met. But there's no way it would be seen as anything less than a major defeat.
If Obama vetoes the pipeline, he faces an embarrassing rebuff in the House. But in the Senate, it would take 67 votes to overturn the veto, and that's probably an insurmountable obstacle for pipeline supporters. All the president would need is 34 Democratic dead-enders to stick with him to stop the pipeline.
But Obama could prevail only at grave political cost. The rise in gas prices is a potent issue for Mitt Romney and Republicans, and it could become far more potent if prices increase in the summer. And the president would be standing alone -- not just against Republicans, but against a major coalition within his own party, including Big Labor -- in opposition to the effort to increase America's energy supplies. Not a good place to be with an election around the corner.
Meanwhile, the pipeline project is going forward. Recently, the company that will build the pipeline submitted plans for a new route through Nebraska, where much environmental opposition has been focused. And in Lincoln, the Nebraska legislature passed, and the governor signed, a new bill that would hasten state approval of the project.
The odds are overwhelming that the Keystone pipeline will become a reality. In the end, Barack Obama has mostly hurt himself by trying to stop it.