The Senate on Thursday killed a Republican effort to revive construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline after President Obama lobbied wavering Democrats to block the legislation, opening the president to fresh GOP umbrage over energy policy and soaring gas prices.
The White House confirmed that Obama phoned a handful of Senate Democrats just before lawmakers effectively blocked an attempt to revive the pipeline, which has pitted Obama's environmentalist supporters against union leaders who want the thousands of jobs the pipeline promises.
Republicans immediately blamed Obama for the demise of the bill, and the loss of potential jobs in a down economy, pointing out that 56 senators, including some Democrats, agreed to advance the initiative.
"President Obama's personal pleas to wavering senators may have tipped the balance against this legislation," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "When it comes to delays over Keystone, anyone looking for a culprit should now look no further than the Oval Office."
Keystone became a rallying cry in Republican circles after Obama in January placed the $7 billion plan on hold, citing the need for further environmental testing. The pipeline would deliver oil from Canada and other northern states down through Texas.
With the average gallon of gasoline costing $3.75 nationwide, Republican presidential candidates have pounced on Obama's inability to lessen pain at the pump. Obama counters that no one decision dictates oil prices and says the skyrocketing cost of crude oil is largely driven by turmoil in the Middle East, particularly Iran.
Yet, even some Democrats concede that the president risks angering voters who view his commitment to domestic oil production as lacking.
"This notion that Keystone would lower prices tomorrow is a complete crock," said one centrist Democratic strategist. "But I don't think most voters understand the semantics of his argument -- that the proper environmental regulations haven't been conducted yet. In my judgment, yes, this could hurt him -- if it's not already."
Amid the conservative furor, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended Obama's role in killing a bill that he labeled as "ineffectual, sham legislation that has no impact on the price of gas."
"The president believes it's wrong to play politics with a pipeline project whose route has yet to be proposed," he said.
The Senate vote will help keep the Keystone controversy alive in this year's campaign and gives Republicans a chance to tell voters that even other Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, have broken ranks with the president in supporting the pipeline.
Super Tuesday exit polls showed that gas prices were among the key issues weighing on voters' decisions at the polls.
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney was quick to paint Obama as out of touch, calling approval of Keystone a "no-brainer."
"How in the world can you have a president who doesn't understand the importance of getting energy from our next-door neighbor?" Romney said from the campaign trail.
The White House has ratcheted up efforts to demonstrate Obama's commitment to energy development. He's held five events in the last two weeks to discuss his administration's efforts to lessen U.S. dependence on foreign fuels.