When the clerk called the name of the Colorado Democrat to ask how he would vote, the seated Udall craned his neck upward to address him: “No,” he responded firmly.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 12 to 10 to allow construction of the pipeline so Udall’s vote was not sufficient to defeat the measure.
But it was enough to put Udall on record as an opponent of binding legislation that would approve the application from TransCanada Corp to build the pipeline across the northern U.S. border.
Udall refused to take questions from reporters before or after the vote, admonishing one who approached him that he was in the middle of a briefing, and then he ducked inside a nearby bathroom.
In a further sign Udall did not want to call attention to his vote, he arrived 40 minutes after the hearing began and long after most reporters had filed into the room, unable to approach him during the proceedings.
Although Udall declined to discuss the vote, his spokesman Mike Saccone issued a statement repeating the senator’s objections to the politicization of the process.
“If the pipeline were being routed through Colorado, Sen. Udall believes his constituents would want to know that science and not politics determined the way forward,” Saccone said, referring to a presidential permit review process in which the State Department would consult with at least eight agencies about the pipeline.
“He is frustrated that the Obama administration has taken more than five years to get to this point, but the technical review process needs to run its course,” Saccone said
Supporters of the Keystone project say Udall’s mind was made up a long time ago. They noted that he voted against a non-binding resolution on the Keystone XL pipeline in May 2013 and that Saccone said last month Udall would probably vote against the legislation.
Yet Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat and chairwoman of the committee, said she had considered Udall a “gettable” vote.
“Sen. Udall was actually in the neutral column,” Landrieu told The Observer. “(But) the politics of Colorado are very different than in Louisiana.”
However, recent polling shows that 66 percent of Coloradans support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Seeking a second six-year term in office, Udall has attempted to woo environmentalists as well as labor unions and the energy industry.
His balancing act has drawn criticism from the pipeline’s proponents, including Rep. Cory Gardner, the Colorado Republican who wants to unseat Udall in the fall.
The Republican National Committee denounced Udall’s vote as a sell-out to environmentalists, the Obama administration, and his own constituents.
“Building the Keystone pipeline would create thousands of good-paying jobs and decrease America’s reliance on Middle-Eastern oil, but once again Mark Udall sided with President Obama and his liberal special interests by voting against it,” spokesman Michael Short said in a statement.
In addition to 10 Republicans on the committee, Democrats Landrieu and Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted for the bill. Udall joined nine other Democrats, including Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who voted for a non-binding resolution last year to oppose the bill.
Sen. Jim Risch, Idaho Republican, supports the Keystone pipeline and expressed chagrin that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was unlikely to schedule a full Senate vote on the hearing this year. But Landrieu said she remains hopeful.
“I think if Republicans roll up their sleeves and just go to work, we can get this done,” said Landrieu, who faces her own difficult re-election battle.
Landrieu says there are 57 Keystone supporters in the Senate, which means the outcome of the November elections is likely to affect the future of the pipeline.
Johnson is retiring, and if a Republican wins that race and Udall loses his bid, Keystone supporters would need only one more Senate supporter to reach the threshold of 60 votes to beat back a filibuster attempt.