The Hail Mary to Sen. Mary Landrieu on Keystone vote

Closing Bell Exchange: DC gridlock good?

After six years of discussion, the Keystone pipeline is finally going to get an up or down vote on the U.S. Senate floor, confirming the adage, elections have consequences. What led to this change? Politics.

On Wednesday, Sen. Mary Landrieu, the embattled Democrat, facing a Dec. 6 runoff, called on the Senate to put the Keystone pipeline issue up for a vote. She was pushing for this to be the first order of business in the lame-duck session of Congress.

In quick turn, the Democratic leadership blessed the gambit, in what political reporters on Capitol Hill are calling the "Hail Mary" to save Landrieu's Senate seat. The idea is to get her name on the bill that approves the pipeline, which is very popular in her home state of Louisiana, where she is behind in in the polls.

Late Wednesday the Republican leadership announced they had a deal with Democrats for a vote as early as Tuesday. How did the decisions to vote next week happen? Politics.

When House leadership got wind of the Hail Mary, they quickly crafted a Keystone pipeline bill to hit the House floor this week. The author of the bill is listed as Rep. Bill Cassidy, the Republican congressman from Louisiana and the candidate facing Landrieu in the Dec. 6 runoff election for the Senate seat.

Read MoreEconomics no longer makes Keystone pipeline viable

The political calculus goes something like this: Passing the Cassidy bill on the House floor this week will give him top billing in the news cycles through the weekend and the final bill will likely bear both of their names.

In addition to the timing issues, the bill will need 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles. Until now the best Keystone had done was 54 votes. This means passage will require six Democrats to flip their votes, something the Republican supporters of Cassidy look forward to pointing out to anyone who will listen.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., speaks after the results of the midterm elections, Nov. 4, 2014, in New Orleans.
Jonathan Bachman | Reuters

The remaining issue is if this will become law. While most believe the White House was going to approve the program eventually, one analyst questions whether the administration wants to let Congress upend the process that has been slowly moving through the regulatory gauntlet.

"The president could veto it because there's an established review process in place and he would stick to that established review process. It's been going on for six years," said Dan Clifton, head of policy research at Strategas.

The approval of the Keystone XL pipeline extension was held up by the Obama administration initially for environmental impact studies. The pipeline's approval came under the auspices of the State Department because TransCanada's pipeline would cross over the border into the U.S. after passing through Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada. It would then travel through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska and link up with another pipeline, carrying crude from Canada, North Dakota, Montana and Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast.

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Back in Louisiana, Landrieu is running about 5 percentage points behind Cassidy in the latest polling. Clearly, her campaign could use the Hail Mary.

—CNBC Executive News Editor Patti Domm contributed to this report.