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Congress will vote on the Keystone XL pipeline starting Friday

Sen. John Hoeven (2nd R) points to a chart while speaking at a press conference with (L-R) Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) at the U.S. Capitol September 18, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Sen. John Hoeven (2nd R) points to a chart while speaking at a press conference with (L-R) Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) at the U.S. Capitol September 18, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Congress is planning to vote soon on bills to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The House has set a vote for Friday, the Senate set a vote for Tuesday.

Why the sudden rush? Because of the still-ongoing Louisiana Senate race.

Incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) are competing against each other in a run-off election next month for the seat — the last race still up in the air. And, by way of appealing to voters in the oil-rich state, they're each sponsoring a bill in Congress to approve the pipeline, which would bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, down to Nebraska and on to refineries in Texas.

Cassidy's Keystone bill in the House is expected to pass easily on Friday during the lame-duck session. Republicans, who control the chamber, are overwhelmingly in favor of approving the project — which has been held up by the Obama administration over concerns that it could exacerbate climate change.

Landrieu, meanwhile, is co-sponsoring a Keystone bill in the Senate with Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) — and Democrats have now agreed to schedule a vote on it for Tuesday. At last count, there are 58 senators in favor. The bill would need 60 votes to overcome a Senate filibuster and 67 votes to override an Obama veto.

The White House, for his part, has signaled that it's not in favor of the bill, although it hasn't yet threatened a veto outright. "The administration, as you know, has taken a dim view of these kinds of legislative proposals in the past," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. "I think it's fair to say that our dim view of these kinds of proposals has not changed."

Will this matter in the Louisiana Senate race?

Landrieu has been trying to convince her fellow Senate Democrats to support the legislation — as a way of helping her campaign against Cassidy. Up until now, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (who is still majority leader until next January) had refused to take it up. But on Wednesday, he finally agreed to a vote.

Still, it's not at all clear that this vote will help Landrieu keep her seat — she's still widely expected to lose in her run-off against Cassidy, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already pulled out of the race. But Landrieu can now tell Louisiana voters that she persuaded her fellow Democrats to bring it to the floor.

Of course, Cassidy has an even simpler pitch to fossil-fuel supporters. If the Keystone bills fail this time around, the next Congress will have much bigger Republican majorities in both the House and Senate and is expected to approve them easily. The only real question then will be how hard Obama wants to fight them.