The current Democratic effort to help Mary Landrieu win her runoff election by scheduling a quick vote on the Keystone XL pipeline has to be one of the most politically idiotic moves in recent history. As I argued yesterday, not only is it guaranteed to fail in its goal of helping Landrieu, it gives Republicans a huge policy victory while getting nothing in return. Runoff elections have extremely low turnout, and the only way Landrieu stands a chance is if she can convince lots of Louisiana Democrats to go to the polls to save her. This kind of me-too policymaking—I'm just as pro-oil as Republicans are!—is about the last thing that'll pump up Democratic enthusiasm.
But they're going ahead with it anyway, and word is now that a vote is likely next week. All may not be well, however, between Landrieu and her colleagues. The close of this article in today's Post is rich with intrigue:
Before her remarks, Landrieu was spotted riding the escalator alone up from the Senate trains that carry lawmakers between their offices and the Capitol, toward a row of elevators. She was stone-faced and declined to answer questions from reporters. Once she reached the top level and stepped off, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of his party’s top campaign strategists, walked over.
Smiling, he asked Landrieu to step aside for a private conversation. She shook her head and moved briskly toward the elevator. As she did, she pointed to her phone, saying she had a call. Schumer paused for a moment as she moved away. His smile dropped, and he turned to follow her. "Mary, Mary," he said, a few steps behind, asking her to speak with him. When she kept moving and ducked into an elevator, he hustled and jumped in to join her as the doors closed.
A few minutes later, Landrieu took to the Senate floor to vent her frustrations and to try to shift the political winds in her direction.
Perhaps Landrieu feels abandoned by other Democrats (the DSCC did in fact abandon her last week, pulling its ads from television), but they are taking this absurd action for her, after all. Interestingly enough, the White House is signaling that President Obama may veto the bill. Maybe that's all part of the plan—that way Landrieu can denounce the president, in yet another failed attempt to show her Republican constituents that she hates Obama as much as they do.
It is odd that Obama would want to turn this into a huge showdown, not only because support for the pipeline in the public is actually pretty strong, but also because there's never been much to suggest that he cares a great deal about this issue one way or the other. So maybe it's a way for the White House to do what Senate Democrats didn't think to do: extract a price for this concession.
Republicans have been desperate to build the pipeline for years now; ask them what they would do to improve the economy, and "Build the pipeline!" is often the first thing out of their mouths, despite the fact that the effect it would have is so small as to be barely distinguishable from zero. So if you're going to give in to them, wouldn't it make sense to get them to give you something in return? If Obama threatens a veto, he could then say, "All right, well let's add this to the bill, and I'll sign it," this being something Democrats want.
Let's hope so. Because it's obvious that Democrats in the Senate don't know much about negotiation.