Landrieu pushes Keystone vote in bid to boost energy industry, runoff chances

Sen. Mary Landrieu is looking for a win-win, as she pushes for a Senate vote to approve the long-delayed Keystone pipeline in a bid to deliver a victory for the energy industry -- and for herself, in a tough runoff election next month.

The senator is facing Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy after being forced into the runoff. Within hours of returning to Capitol Hill, Landrieu called for a Senate vote on the Keystone bill, which is now teed up for next Tuesday.

Republicans responded swiftly to Landrieu's maneuvering, scheduling a vote in the House, likely for Friday, on an identical bill sponsored by Cassidy.

The back-and-forth amounts to a continuation of their bitter Senate campaign, with one of the most controversial energy projects in America caught in the middle. The TransCanada-built pipeline, which would cross over an aquifer in Nebraska, has been held up for six years by environmental and other concerns.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, traveling with President Obama in Burma, told reporters that the president takes a "dim view" of legislative efforts to force action on the project. Earnest stopped short of threatening a veto, but reiterated Obama's preference for evaluating the pipeline through a long-stalled State Department review. Obama has repeatedly ordered such reviews under pressure from environmental groups, who say the project would contribute to climate change.

Landrieu, who is thought to be trailing Cassidy ahead of their Dec. 6 runoff election, wants to boost the energy industry by pushing Keystone. The measure was one she co-sponsored with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., back in May.

“We can pass the Keystone pipeline and answer the frustrations of the American people,” she said. “So they could rest next and say, oh my gosh the senators of the United States of America have ears and they have brains and they have hearts and they heard what we said and we can do this.”

But the timing immediately raised Republican suspicions.

Cassidy noted that the House has passed pro-Keystone legislation eight times, and "the Senate did not consider any of the eight." After Landrieu called for a vote, Cassidy and GOP leaders in the House said they would vote on a Cassidy-authored Keystone bill.

"I hope the Senate and the president do the right thing and pass this legislation creating thousands of jobs," Cassidy said in a statement. "After six years, it’s time to build."

The legislative tug-of-war came a day after aides first said that Senate Democrats were considering bringing the pipeline to a vote in order to boost Landrieu ahead of the runoff election. (The two rivals are heading to a runoff because neither got more than 50 percent of the vote last week.) The pipeline is a popular project in oil industry-heavy Louisiana, and Landrieu has touted her support of the pipeline and her tenure as chairwoman of the Senate energy committee in her campaign.

On the Senate floor on Wednesday, Landrieu insisted she was not trying to gain political points, and said she didn’t even care if her name stayed on the bill.

“I didn’t come here to see my name in lights,” she said. “I came to fight for jobs for my state.”

She also seemed to take credit for Cassidy's House bill, calling it "identical" to the legislation she co-sponsored.

However, Cassidy told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren that his rival's assertion that politics were not involved was obviously untrue.

"I have to smile when Sen. Landrieu says politics are not involved," he said on "On the Record." "Clearly (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid did not care about the 40,000 jobs that would be created for families which are struggling, but he does care about Sen. Landrieu’s job. So finally he is going to take the bill up. I don’t think the president cares about those 40,000 people."

Senate Republicans and several moderate Democrats have pushed for the project to be approved for years, and backers of the project got a major win after Republicans took control of the Senate. Supporters say the construction of the pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs.

Landrieu said in an evening press conference that she does not have a commitment from Obama that he would sign the bill should it reach his desk, but she is "hopeful."

"We believe the bill we drafted could receive support in the House of Representatives and get the president's signature," she said.

Landrieu is facing a tough battle to keep her job after nearly 20 years in office. A Real Clear Politics average of recent polls has the senator trailing her rival by nearly 5 points ahead of the election on Dec. 6.

Fox News' Kara Rowland, Chad Pergram and Mike Emanuel and the Associated Press contributed to this report.