President Barack Obama killed the Keystone XL Pipeline. That doesn’t mean Republicans are ready to let it die.
As the Republican Governors Association met for two days on the Las Vegas Strip, state leaders continued to hammer Obama’s decision to block a pipeline that would help connect pipes to move Canadian tar-sands oil south to the Gulf of Mexico. In the GOP’s telling, Obama sided with political allies over good policy, thwarted thousands of jobs and cut off funding from local schools and roads. The rhetoric was perhaps over-inflated, but potentially effective.
“It was clear it was a political decision. … This is an important pipeline for the people of the United States,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday. The proposed TransCanada pipeline would have moved through his state, adding short-term jobs to build the tubes and a few long-term jobs to maintain it. “Why wouldn’t we want to develop energy relationships with our closest ally, Canada?”
Instead, Ricketts told donors to the Republican Governors’ campaign arm, Obama decided to favor environmentalists at the expense of Americans. “It would have been millions of dollars in property taxes to help build roads an schools,” Ricketts said.
The comments are a preview of the message Republican governors plan to use as they head into 2016’s election year. Obama won’t be on the ballot, but Governors don’t plan to let him exit the White House without first running more campaign against him.
It’s an aggressive play, for sure. But unlike the political arguments about Obama and his broad policies, the fine-tuned message translated the decision directly to the classrooms where voters send their children and the roads that are all too clogged in many states. The remarks also serve as a reminder that governors are the politicians in this country who hear most directly from the voters they serve.
“The very best politics is good policy,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
As the crowded field of Republicans looking to become President in 2017 criticizes likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as a third-term for Obama, the Governors’ rhetoric might better help the GOP translate that into tangible results. Clinton was a latecomer to opposing the pipeline, but she got there eventually.
The Republicans’ fresh message also threads criticism with a reason for voters to feel optimistic, not laden with frustration. “America is going through an energy revolution,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said. “America is the world’s largest producer of oil and gas, beating out Russia and Saudi Arabia.”
But the Republican governors are not willing to soften their rhetoric against Obama, who remains deeply unpopular among the party’s conservative base, or the Environmental Protection Agency. That agency, in particular, is a favorite target of the 2016 candidates for President.
“We need to run out the clock over the next 14 months until we get a new President,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said. In the meantime, states must continue fighting Obama and his proposals in the courts. “The EPA,” Abbott said, “is a rogue agency that is run by ideologues.”
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