Some may see failure in the Senate's rejection yesterday of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's proposal to authorize liquefied natural gas exports to more than 150 members of the World Trade Organization.
Others say it's all par for the Texan's course as a potential presidential candidate.
"He doesn't play to win, he plays to win headlines," said Harvey Kronberg, editor of The Quorum Report, an online Texas political tip sheet.
Cruz's attempt to position himself as a leader on energy issues by attaching oil and gas export language to the Keystone XL pipeline bill up for debate in the Senate -- even if it diverges from other more popular GOP LNG export bills -- is likely to resonate with passionate voters in the Lone Star State, Kronberg said.
Earlier in the week, Cruz dropped a crude oil export amendment that some worried would split Republican votes.
Texas is still reeling from declining oil and gas production, and Cruz's proposal to export domestic energy would be a "winner" in presidential primaries, Kronberg said, especially because the majority of the 1.2 million people -- out of the state's 26 million voters -- that actually weigh in during the GOP primary support Cruz.
"There's no penalty for going rogue if that's the only group you're talking to," he said.
But Kronberg acknowledged that the argument becomes a bit more dicey when you analyze which WTO members would receive automatic DOE approvals for LNG exports, especially if some of those countries are out of political favor. Some industry sources and lawmakers have acknowledged as much, saying legislation that imposes timelines on agencies -- instead of taking away their ability to review exports -- is a more popular and attainable request.
"If it rose to the level of actually being in a national debate, it seems to me a Democratic contender could caricaturize" Cruz's support for such language, Kronberg said.
The Cruz amendment revealed well-known fractures in the Senate over the push to export the country's newfound glut of natural gas, with elements in the Northeast concerned about price spikes and emissions opposing the language and senators hailing from oil- and gas-producing states backing the measure.
The upper chamber voted 53-45 to defeat the amendment, with the lone Democratic support coming from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine the lone Republican opponent.
Both senators have staked out rare political territory on the issue.
Heitkamp, notably, joined her GOP colleagues last year -- and former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska -- to fast-track LNG exports to Japan and other U.S. allies (E&ENews PM, Jan. 31, 2013). And Collins was the only Republican who joined more than a dozen Democrats last year in signing a letter asking President Obama to consider skyrocketing energy bills during severe Northeast winters that could be exacerbated by LNG exports.
But Cruz, while continuing to tout his own proposal as going further, said during an interview yesterday that he would welcome other strategies for fast-tracking exports, noting that he's a co-sponsor of a Senate bill that will receive a hearing in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee today (E&E Daily, Jan. 26).
"I would welcome any positive movement expanding LNG exports, it's unequivocally good for jobs and economic growth, and it's unequivocally good for our national security interests," Cruz said. "I believe the amendment we just voted on would have greater positive impact, it would be more effective, but I will welcome any positive movement on this issue."
Some sources have said the Senate measure -- floated by a bipartisan octet of senators, including Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) -- could be meshed with another measure that passed the House yesterday. The Senate and House bills are both bipartisan and would impose a deadline on the Energy Department to either approve or reject exports to countries without a free-trade agreement with the United States (Greenwire, Jan. 28).
But Heinrich said during an interview yesterday it was premature to say whether the bills would be combined or the language changed.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Senate ENR Committee's chairwoman, said during an interview yesterday that Cruz's amendment expanded discussion of the issue beyond those senators who are members of the energy panel.
"What you saw, and kind of an awareness of where other members are coming from on issues that you don't have if you don't have amendments coming to the floor, if you don't have these initiatives in front of you," Murkowski told reporters as she was leaving the Capitol last night. "You might have that if you sit on the same committee. But hey, everyone is interested in what's happening with LNG."
Murkowski said she has yet not determined whether to move the LNG bill up for discussion at today's hearing as a standalone measure or make it part of a larger energy bill later in the year. She also said the hearing has been moved up to 9:30 a.m. this morning to accommodate the another round of amendment votes on the KXL bill at 11 a.m.
Murkowski said Department of Energy fossil chief Chris Smith was relatively noncommittal in his prepared testimony submitted to the committee, but she hoped he would be a bit more direct when he appears this morning.
"I think if we can get some support from the administration on this, that allows us to pick up Democratic support that is hopefully good, strong and robust. And if you've got that, we might be able to move it freestanding," she said of the LNG bill from Barrasso, Heinrich and others. "If it's not, it may be another issue. So I think we're still in that feeling-it-out stage."
Despite the Senate's rejection, Cruz yesterday cast the vote on his amendment as a victory, noting that 53 senators -- "every Republican save one" -- voted for his proposal to accelerate LNG exports to WTO members, adding that he hopes more than just Heitkamp from the Democratic side of the aisle will join his cause.
When asked about a possible presidential run, Cruz said the focus -- as it is this year in the Senate -- should be on restoring the economy, defending constitutional liberties and restoring America's leadership in the world.
"It's my hope that the Republican majority in Congress will stand up and lead with big, bold, positive legislative proposals to accomplish all three, and it's my hope in 2016 that the Republican nominee for president will do the exact same thing," he said.
"It's a race that I'm looking at very closely."
Reporter Nick Juliano contributed.
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