Mary Landrieu’s sad final act: Why her desperate Keystone gambit should fail

Pushing for a Keystone XL vote won’t keep her Senate seat -- but it will get her a top dollar job from Big Oil

Published November 13, 2014 2:15PM (EST)

Mary Landrieu          (Reuters/Jonathan Bachman)
Mary Landrieu (Reuters/Jonathan Bachman)

Only Democrats do this. Only Democrats chase voters they will never win with actual, serious policy concessions, not merely cultural gestures – take Sen. Rand Paul praising the “romance” of Latin culture while opposing immigration reform. Or empty promises – like eight years of George W. Bush promising federal action to overturn Roe v. Wade and outlaw abortion, but doing next to nothing in the eyes of angry antiabortion groups.

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu is trying to get her party to force President Obama to OK the Keystone XL pipeline this week. And while the DSCC pulled the plug on her race financially – ads by challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy outnumber Landrieu ads 24-1 -- some Democrats are joining Landrieu to demand Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid give Landrieu’s proposal a vote in the Senate. "The Senate has reached an agreement to debate and vote on Senator Landrieu's Keystone bill," Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson told the National Journal on Wednesday.

That’s even after Landrieu couched her move as bowing to the forces that made Reid the new Senate minority leader. “I believe that we should take the new majority leader at his word and stop blocking legislation that is broadly supported by the American public,” Landrieu said Wednesday afternoon on the Senate floor. “I want to say yes to majority leader — new majority leader Mitch McConnell. The time to start is now.”

Quickly red state Democrats ran to Landrieu’s side. West Virginia Blue Dog Sen. Joe Manchin backed Landrieu’s call for a Keystone vote and also insisted Senate Democrats should stop refusing to vote on any of the House GOP’s agenda. “That’s bullsh—. … I’m not going to put up with that.”

It may be that Reid is telling liberal Democrats and the White House that they’re going to have to step up and block legislation they don’t like, after that sad pre-election New York Times story that featured party sources trashing Reid for “obstruction” and suggesting the president might get more done with McConnell in charge. Red state Democrats are also publicly trashing Reid now, insisting his refusal to take up controversial legislation on which conservative Democrats might have joined the GOP helped cost some of them their seats last week. White House aides say President Obama will veto the bill, on the grounds that the State Department and the courts are still reviewing it.

But this gambit is unlikely to help Landrieu. The pipeline doesn’t even come through Louisiana – it stops at Texas. The jobs it creates are mostly temporary; an otherwise favorable State Department report found the pipeline would ultimately create 35 permanent full-time jobs. Even worse politically, the House legislation is sponsored by her opponent, Bill Cassidy, which should offset any potential political bump for Landrieu there. Her tiny chance of winning the runoff relies on motivating and turning out Democrats, and there’s no evidence pushing a Keystone vote will do that.

What Keystone does is let Landrieu poke a sharp stick in the eye of Obama, much hated by her white constituents. Any points Landrieu got for politely pointing to the role of race in Obama-hate are swept away by this craven move.

It’s remarkable that Senate Democrats won’t hold hearings or vote on President Obama’s attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch. Yet they seem willing or eager to make time to vote on a hugely controversial project that will divide their base and set back the cause of environmental protection that Tuesday night’s historic, surprise climate change accord with China just advanced.

In her Senate floor speech, Landrieu had the gall to hijack the old United Farmworkers saying, “Si se puede!” which had already been repurposed by Obama. It was to save Landrieu and other Southern Dems, of course, that the president postponed executive action to defer deportation until after the election – and look where that got him.

Now Landrieu, who's partly responsible for dividing countless Latino families who might have been kept together had the president kept his promise, is speaking Spanish and borrowing the slogan of low-wage Latino laborers to back the pipeline. Shameless.

It won’t get her reelected. But it’ll help get her a job as a Big Oil lobbyist. It’s a sad footnote to her career.

By Joan Walsh