WASHINGTON - Democrats sweating this year's elections may be hoping that the Obama administration's latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will take a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.
An indefinite extension of the government's review of the contentious oil pipeline, announced late Friday by the State Department, almost certainly pushes a final decision past the November elections, keeping the project in a politically expedient holding pattern. But it is doing little to quell posturing over the project, which has taken on a life of its own as climate change activists battle with energy advocates from both parties.
Republicans jumped at the chance to paint Democrats as powerless to rein in their own party's president. Keystone opponents were split, with some praising the delay and others chiding President Obama for not vetoing the project outright.
"It reinforces how ineffective, powerless and without influence senators like Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich, Mark Warner, and Kay Hagan are," said Brad Dayspring of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, rattling off vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in November.
For Democrats competing in Republican-leaning states, winning those votes will require putting distance between themselves and Obama. The State Department's announcement that a decision on Keystone XL won't come any time soon offers a prime opportunity to bash the leader of their party.
"I am frankly appalled at the continued foot-dragging by this administration on the Keystone project," said Begich (D., Alaska), adding that the delay "means we'll miss another construction season, and another opportunity to create thousands of jobs across the country."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some environmentalists were equally miffed, arguing that Obama should muster the courage to nix the project rather than hold out the prospect that he will approve the pipeline, which would carry oil from western Canada's tar sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Word of the latest in a string of delays to Keystone XL came Friday as Washington was winding down for Easter. The State Department said it will give federal agencies more time to weigh in on the matter but declined to say how much longer.