North Dakota Senator John Hoeven may well be the Keystone XL pipeline's hardest-working backer in Washington, DC. Whenever Barack Obama finds himself being pushed by a congressman on the pipeline, the odds are it's Hoeven.
Some may be tempted to assume that this is because Hoeven is a Republican and because the state he represents, North Dakota, will benefit directly from the pipeline. Oil produced in North Dakota fields will be pumped along a separate pipeline -- also built by TransCanada -- to Baker, Montana where it will join oil extracted from the Alberta oilsands and from fields in Saskatchewan on its way to Oklahoma.
That, however, would be a mistake. In fact, there's a great deal of bi-partisan support for the project. Hoeven has teamed up with Max Baucus (Democrat), the senior Senator senator from Montana, in proposing a bill that would empower Congress to grant or not grant approval to the pipeline.
Whether or not this can be done remains to be seen. After all, President Obama could simply veto the bill, retaining approval power for US Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department. But in doing so he would be forgoing an opportunity.
Ever since 2010, Obama's Presidency has been marked by divided government: the Republicans control the House of Representatives and the Democrats control the Senate. The US government has been so divided that it's been unable to function. It's been unable to do something to simple as pass a budget.
Obama hasn't found himself above stoking the fires of partisan division. But having already attempted to govern like that for four years, to think that he can continue doing so would be a mark of the highest arrogance. Should Hoeven and Baucus manage to pass their bill -- and with the majority of Democrats supporting the pipeline it's hard to imagine that they cannot --Obama faces a very stark choice: veto the bill, or allow this one bulb of bi-partisanship to blossom, in hopes that it can lead to something better.
All of this depends on whether Barack Obama is more interested in having a functioning government, or in preserving his own ideological interests. Based on his track record to date, there doesn't seem to be much cause for hope. But who knows? Obama could always turn over a new leaf.