This guest blog post is provided by Paul Frazer, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Special Advisor on Canada-U.S. Relations.
On May 1, Senators Landrieu (D-LA) and Hoeven (R-ND) introduced a binding piece of legislation that would force President Obama to approve TransCanada’s Presidential permit application to build the Keystone XL pipeline across the Canada-U.S. international boundary. As of this morning, 56 U.S. Senators have said they would vote to move forward in the legislative process on the bill – to end debate in a procedure known as invoking cloture. However, supporters of Keystone should know there are still obstacles to overcome and there is little chance the legislation actually will become law.
While 56 votes is a majority, invoking cloture requires 60 votes. Sen. Hoeven of North Dakota, indicated there are around six or seven “maybe” votes. Even if four Democrats were to side with the current 45 Republican and 11 Democratic supporters, invoking cloture only is one step of many in the long road ahead for this binding legislation.
If cloture were reached, then the bill would only require a simple majority (51 votes) for passage. We assume based on current support numbers this would occur. The bill would then be reported to the Republican-controlled House.
There, the legislation likely would be fast-tracked through Committee, sent to the Rules Committee to set terms and debate length, and then likely pass that Chamber by a party-line vote. (Note: Republicans control the House 233-199, meaning they would easily reach the 218 majority requirement; there are three vacant seats.)
Meanwhile at The White House
Without question, if the bill were to reach the Oval Office, President Obama would veto it. While this isn’t the death knell for the legislation, it would require supporters to consider whether or not to try to override the President’s veto.
Overriding a Veto
The (rarely used) process is relatively straight forward to override a President’s stamp of disapproval on a bill: 2/3 majorities of both chambers must vote in favor of countermanding a veto: 291 representatives in the House and 67 Senators. As aforementioned, this process is rare – Congress has overridden less than 10% of vetoed bills.
The chances of getting to cloture are slim, but not out of the question. The next (and biggest) challenge is overruling the President’s eventual veto. I would say there is about an 80% chance the bill fails to garner the 60 votes needed for cloture. Should the bill move out of the Senate – and pass the House – the chances of overriding the Presidential veto and becoming law are extremely unlikely.
Paul Frazer, President of PDFrazer Associates brings his expertise to bear on behalf of companies with interests to promote and protect in Washington. He has worked on a variety of economic/trade and policy cross-border issues affected by legislation or attempts at legislation for clients in financial services, energy, environment/climate, health care, and natural resources sectors. He can be contacted at 202.683.6085 or Paul.Frazer@pdfrazer.com.