A Democratic senator suggested Sunday that the Senate might have enough votes to pass a bill compelling the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., noting that 62 senators voted in favor of a Keystone measure last year, said: "I still think that vote is there. I really do."
Manchin discussed the prospects just days after his Senate colleagues introduced a bill to build the Canada-to-Texas pipeline. The difference between the measure approved last year and this one is that last year's was a nonbinding resolution with no real teeth to it.
The new Senate bill would require approval of Keystone. Getting a filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority on board with such a bill is a heavier lift for sponsors.
But Manchin said he "would hope" that a few more Democrats would be willing to support it, and even suggested it could be a positive step for the White House.
"We don't want to usurp anyone's power, but if it gives the White House some protection from the environmental community coming after them, sooner or later you've got to give to the will of the people," Manchin said.
Democrats and Republicans are moving forward with a Senate bill to compel approval after the State Department once again delayed the consideration process, possibly until after the midterm elections.
The proposed pipeline would carry oil from Canada to the United States, where it eventually would reach Gulf Coast refineries. Supporters say it would create thousands of jobs and help the United States get closer to a goal of energy independence. Opponents include environmentalists who say the project wouldn't create much permanent employment once it was finished, and say it would reinforce the nation's use of an energy source that worsens climate change.
After the Senate legislation to approve the project was introduced last week, sponsors said they were still short of the 60 votes needed to pass it. Sens. John Hoeven. R-N.D., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., said the legislation has the support of 11 Democrats and all 45 of the Senate's Republicans, a total of 56 of the 60 that will be needed.
"A vote on the bill is expected in the coming days," they added.
The obvious targets for additional support include six Democrats who voted in favor of the non-binding proposal 13 months ago that expressed general support for the project: Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Chris Coons of Delaware, Tom Carper of Delaware, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Bill Nelson of Florida.
Among the group, Casey noted he has twice before voted in favor of the project, and said it was "probably a good guess" to assume he will do so again.
Carper said he is undecided, and intends to meet with Landrieu, Hoeven and others in the coming days.
Johnson, Coons and Nelson indicated Thursday they do not support the legislation to require construction.
Even if sponsors could pick off four more Democrats, President Obama could still veto the bill.
While Landrieu and Hoeven push their proposal, some Republicans say the vote should occur on an amendment to energy efficiency legislation that is expected to reach the Senate floor in the next few days. That would present Obama with a more complicated choice, since large numbers of lawmakers in both parties are likely to favor the broader measure.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said a vote on a free-standing bill that deals only with the pipeline is insufficient "because it will never see the light of day. The president's not going to sign it."
Though the approval decision has been described as resting with the State Department, Manchin said Sunday that nobody in Washington believes environmental decisions are being made at that level.
"This is coming strictly from the White House," he said. "That's where it lies. If we had the green light from the White House, this would happen."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.