It’s not often that you see moments of genuine human drama in the Senate or get a glimpse of the imperial mindset of America’s political elite. This week the world was treated to both.
The moment of genuine human drama came just after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced the defeat of a bill that would have launched construction of the controversial $8 billion Keystone XL Pipeline that would carry oil from tar sands in Canada through Indian county and American states all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. “The yays were 59, the nays are 41,” Warren said, incomprehensibly changing tenses from “were” to “are.” “The 60 vote threshold having not been achieved, the bill is not passed,” she continued, referring to the 60 votes needed to clear a filibuster. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill with a 252–161 vote on November 14.
A few moments later Greg Grey Cloud, an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe who was standing in the gallery of the Senate hall, began to sing an honor song to celebrate the defeat of the Keystone XL Pipeline. People were talking and milling about on the Senate floor when Grey Cloud began to sing but, transfixed by the soulful sound of a human voice in full-throated song, all heads turned to find its source and the business of American politics stopped for one fleeting moment.
Business as usual returned just as quickly. With an assurance worthy of Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts ordering, “Off with his head!” Warren said, “Sergeant at arms will restore order. Order in the gallery.” People started moving around the Senate floor again and Warren rested her head in her hand as Grey Cloud was hauled off and arrested.
It’s impossible to know what might have happened if instead of “restoring order in the gallery” Grey Cloud had been allowed to finish his song. But one thing is certain: there’s more drama to come.
The feeling of triumph over the defeat of the Keystone XL Pipeline was as brief as the moment of listening to the honor song since the new Senate Republican majority has promised to bring the issue back.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), the leading Senate Republican supporter of the pipeline, said Republicans would try to build a veto-proof 67 votes for the bill, attach it to broader energy legislation or tie it to a must-pass measure such as an appropriations bill, Politico said. The site reported that Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), another strong Keystone supporter, walking out with Hoeven, said, “We’ll get it in January.”
The Republicans will have at least a 53-seat majority or 54 if Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La, is defeated by Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy in a December runoff. Eight of the 14 Democrats who voted in favor of Keystone on Tuesday will return to the Senate in January. That will give the Republicans 61 or 62 votes – enough to pass, but not veto-proof, a Keystone bill unless five or six more Democrats join them.
But even if Republicans pass a Keystone bill, it’s not the end of the story.
After the House approved the Keystone project, Rosebud Sioux President Cyril Scott said in a statement that the tribe will not allow the pipeline on its lands. “The House has now signed our death warrants and the death warrants of our children and grandchildren. . . We are outraged at the lack of intergovernmental cooperation. We are a sovereign nation, and we are not being treated as such. We will close our reservation borders to Keystone XL. Authorizing Keystone XL is an act of war against our people.”
The day after Keystone’s narrow defeat in the Senate and the Republicans’ vow to push it through the next session, Scott told National Native News that he doesn’t want violence but he promises that Lakota warriors camping out at the Keystone site are prepared to halt construction by any means necessary.
“We drew a line in the sand. Test us – you’ll see an Indian uprising. The last one was the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the United States government lost one of their great generals that day,” Scott said. ”Let’s see who Keystone XL loses.”