Today Claire McCaskill did it. She voted with all Senate Republicans and nine Senate Democrats to pass the House’s Keystone XL authorization. Of course, nine Democrats won’t be enough to override a presidential veto, so maybe she was hoping to get some red Missouri love without having to make anyone pay too big a price.
That line of thought might, though, give McCaskill too much credit. Even most Republicans have to know in their secret hearts that as far as jobs go Keystone XL is very small potatoes indeed. As Steve Benen writes today:
As for the substance, let’s recap our discussion from a few weeks ago, noting just how straightforward the case against Keystone is. At issue is a proposal to build a pipeline to transport oil, extracted from tar sands, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Critics have said the tar-sands process is environmentally hazardous, which is true. They’ve said the project would have no real impact on already low gas prices, which is also true. And they’ve said Keystone would be largely meaningless to the U.S. unemployment rate, which, once again, is completely true.
And on the other side of the aisle, Republicans have an equally straightforward rejoinder: they really, really, really like this project. Why? Because they really, really, really do
And for some reason, McCaskill, the only Democrat I’ve got representing me in Congress, seems to share the GOP infatuation with the pipeline. She seems to really, really, really like it too. Even pertinent reminders of the problems that plague oil pipelines, events like this month’s disastrous spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River, fail to sway her infatuation with the project – and if you think such spills are rare events, take a look at this list of hundreds of such spills in the United States in the last 14 years alone. And no, engineers can’t really make credible promises to do better. As a USGS engineer observed apropos the problem of protecting pipelines routed beneath rivers, “it’s nature […]. Is it going to follow the equation? I don’t know for sure.”
So does this mean that McCaskill, who seems uber-cautious when it comes to politics, is inclined to be reckless when in the throes of fossil-fuel passion? There must be some explanation for McCaskill thowing her constituents under the bus. And don’t let anyone fool you. The answer can’t be jobs. The Keystone impact will be so small that Chuck Todd and some of his fellow NBC news staff members, deride the entire effort as laughably “small ball politics.”
Steve Benen has a persuasive take on why Republicans keep batting that diminishingly small ball back and forth:
Rather, Keystone has become a totem of sorts. Its actual value has been rendered meaningless, replaced with post-policy symbolic value that ignores pesky details like facts and evidence. Indeed, the more Democrats and environmentalists tell Republicans this is a bad idea, the more Republicans convince themselves this is The Most Important Project In The World. It’s ideologically satisfying.
Taking this one step further, my suspicion is that GOP officials find all of these circumstances quite convenient. Republicans don’t have a jobs agenda, or much an economic vision in general, but they have a Keystone bill that those rascally Democrats won’t accept.
And when pressed for an explanation on why congressional Republicans aren’t working on economic development, they immediately turn to their talking point of choice: “Keystone! Keystone! Keystone!”
So that explains why Republicans are doing what they are doing. It’s just another Benghazi in a long list of Benghazis, symbolically loaded tags that come in handy when you’re asked why you and your political allies can’t do anything worthwhile.
But this still leaves us with the question of Senator McCaskill and her Democratic allies. Surely, their goals aren’t to provide cover for GOP ne’er-do-wells. Surely, they can’t think that siding with idiots who are running for cover will provide them with the same type of cover. Haven’t they noticed the President’s spiking approval numbers now that he’s showing a tendency to stand up for a progressive agenda? Isn’t that proof that there are still people out there who reward leaders who can act the part?