Organized labor groups put Senate Democrats in a tight spot Friday by demanding that Congress complete legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline project.
"The American public has long been clamoring for increased bi-partisan cooperation and accord. We express our hope that, once the Senate has approved this bill, President Obama embraces that sentiment as well and signs this legislation into law," said Sean McGarvey, president of the North America's Building Trades Unions, a coalition group.
Terry O'Sullivan, president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, a coalition member, was more blunt: "The president should immediately resume the 'national interest determination' that he needlessly suspended last year, and Democrats in Congress must stop all the excuses and end the shameful politics used to block Keystone. They should join in a bipartisan manner to approve the project and create jobs."
The House voted, 266-153, Friday to approve construction. The Senate is expected to take up companion legislation on Monday. President Obama, whose State Department has been reviewing the project for more than six years because it needs a cross-border permit, has said would veto a bill.
Most Democrats oppose the pipeline project, siding with environmental groups who warn the pipeline will lead to more pollution. All of Friday's 153 House votes against the bill came from Democrats. Only 28 voted in support.
That puts the party, which has traditionally been pro-union, at odds with construction industry unions, who have been clamoring for years for the pipeline project's approval. About 42,000 jobs would be created during the construction of the pipeline, according to the State Department.
Until now, Senate Democrats haven't had to choose between the environmental and labor factions since Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., majority leader from 2007 through last year, didn't allow votes on the project.
With the Senate now having a Republican majority, Democrats will have to go on record either supporting or opposing Keystone. Union leaders argue they have no excuse not to.
"This project has been the most analyzed and studied infrastructure project in the history of our nation. At each juncture, the conclusions have been consistent: the project is a significant job creator; will provide an economic boost for the communities all along the proposed route, and it will not substantially increase greenhouse gases," McGarvey said.
Liberal Senate Democrats have nevertheless vowed to filibuster it. The Senate bill has 60 co-sponsors, including all Republicans and six Democrats, all hailing from moderate or conservative-leaning states: Joe Manchin, W.Va.; Joe Donnelly, Ind.; Heidi Heitkamp, N.D.; Claire McCaskill, Mo.; Jon Tester, Mont.; and Mark Warner, Va.
The Washington Examiner reported Friday that three more senators are likely to back it. That is still short of the 67 needed to override a veto.
The pipeline would ship oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The project has been in limbo since 2011 when environmental groups urged Obama, who had previously leaned toward the project, to oppose it. The president subsequently said the project needs more study but more recently has said it would be too damaging to the environment.
"It's good for Canada, it could create a couple thousand jobs in the initial construction of the pipeline. But we've got to measure that against whether or not it is going to contribute to an overall warming of the planet that could be disastrous," Obama said last month on "The Colbert Report."