President Obama's pipeline lobbying paid off…for now.
A controversial Republican amendment to a transportation bill, to mandate construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, has failed in the Senate.
The numbers may be a little too close for comfort for the White House: the amendment fell just short of the 60 votes needed for the amendment to be included in the final bill at 56-42.
President Obama had personally lobbied Democrats, telephoning members of Congress directly to encourage them to reject the measure.
The amendment would have taken the pipeline's approval process out of President Obama's hands and mandated an expedited building of the pipeline project in light of the nation's rising gas prices.
"The president obviously has communications with members of Congress with some regularity," White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Thursday confirming the lobbying effort. "We have made our position clear about purely ideological and political efforts to attach legislation regarding the Keystone pipeline to whatever some members of Congress fancy at the time."
This pressure from the president put many moderate Democrats, some of whom are running for re-election from oil producing states that would benefit from the pipeline, in tough positions with their vote today.
Ultimately, eleven Democrats voted in favor of the pipeline provision, bucking the White House's stance on the issue - Sen. Max Baucus, D-MT., Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., Sen. Kent Conrad, D-ND., Sen. Kay Hagan, D-NC., Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Lou, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV., Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Sen. Jim Webb, D-Virg.
Not a single Republican voted against the measure. Sen. Kirk, R-Ill., and Sen. Thune, R-SD., missed the vote.
This close vote will provide motivation for Republicans to keep pushing for the pipeline.
Moments after the vote Republicans vowed to keep fighting on this issue and said they were "heartened" by the 56 votes indicating that with work this could eventually get passed.
"We're going to continue this fight," Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND., one of the sponsors of the bill said adding that he was hopeful there might be other opportunities, perhaps in the conference committee to add this amendment once again. "The pressure is just going to increase on the administration to get this project done."
Republicans blamed President Obama for the failure of the measure.
"It was very strong words by President Obama himself making calls to the Democrats," Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., said, " I suppose you can give credit to the president for once again blocking something."
"President Obama's personal pleas to wavering Senators may have tipped the balance against this legislation," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., said in a statement, "When it comes to delays over Keystone, anyone looking for a culprit should now look no further than the Oval Office."
The amendment would have been part of the $109 billion transportation bill that Senators have been debating on for weeks. After a deal was reached last night and the vote on amendments was held today it looks like the bill will be on track for final passage next week before the March 31st deadline for passage.