Byron York

"For the skilled craft professionals that I represent, the past four years have not been a recession, they've been a depression," McGarvey said, arguing that the pipeline will produce tens of thousands of jobs in a construction industry beset by an unemployment rate of 16 percent. McGarvey noted that the Obama administration's decision to delay the pipeline was based on an assessment from the state of Nebraska that the line could endanger an environmentally critical aquifer. Now, however, the pipeline's builders have proposed rerouting the line, and the governor of Nebraska has approved it.

"There is no reason for any further delay," McGarvey said. "In fact, there is every reason in the world to approve this project."

McGarvey was not just speaking for himself. His AFL-CIO division represents members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Laborers International Union of North America, the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, and several other organizations. Together, they and the larger AFL-CIO have donated many millions of dollars to Democratic candidates and many millions of man-hours to Democratic campaigns -- more than the environmental movement and Hollywood combined.

The other problem for the protesters is public opinion. Polls have consistently shown that most Americans support building the pipeline. In a Rasmussen poll released in January, 59 percent of those surveyed were in favor. On Wednesday, the petroleum institute released its own poll putting the number at 69 percent.

In coming weeks, the Big Labor-Big Oil alliance will try to drive those numbers even higher. On the conference call, Gerard announced plans for a campaign of "advertising, making presentations at events around the country, and calling on allies and potential allies, including business and labor leaders, veterans, educators and others to write to the president and Congress urging approval of the project."

Given that pressure, and especially given the new fact of a safer route for the pipeline, it's hard to see Obama saying no. But so far, the president just can't face his environmental and Hollywood allies with the bad news. Even when they come to the White House to see him.

Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner