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The President’s Way: Politics Uber Alles

Apart from the Affordable Care Act, one of the most difficult problems Democrats face in the midterm elections is how to deal with their party’s deep divisions over the Keystone XL pipeline.

The decision is to make no decision until after the election - at which point I am reasonably confident that the administration, which has slow-walked the project for years, will finally reject it.

But as usual in the Obama White House, politics literally comes first. The administration has announced it will indefinitely extend the time federal agencies can use to review the long-delayed oil pipeline. The State Department cited a recent decision from a Nebraska judge that prompted uncertainty about the pipeline’s path through the state. The Nebraska dispute will now head to the state’s Supreme Court. The delay provides a convenient excuse for the president to continue avoiding a final call until after November.

The White House disingenuously insists that the State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry are solely in charge of the process, with no involvement from the man in the Oval Office, let alone his political advisers. Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday that attempts to “inject” politics into the State Department’s delay were off base.

Of course, if the administration stalls the project long enough, it might just go away. This explains why environmental groups opposed to Keystone XL have praised the latest delay, while organized labor condemned it. Republicans and some Democrats from energy-industry states also vocally criticized the State Department’s decision. All of this is as expected. The administration seems content to signal to environmental interests that the executive is on their side without having to actually face the consequences of jettisoning an important energy initiative.

The sense of deja vu this announcement may have triggered is not all in your head. The Keystone XL project represents a choice between the Democrats’ ever-important organized labor constituency and the party’s environmentalist wing, and the problem of that split has not changed since the last time the administration chose to put off making a call on the project.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said frankly that there were no credible reasons to further delay the decision. In a statement responding to the State Department’s announcement, Boehner said, “This job-creating project has cleared every environmental hurdle and overwhelmingly passed the test of public opinion, yet it’s been blocked for more than 2,000 days.”

The administration seems oblivious to the irony of delaying Keystone XL again in light of Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Ukraine this week. Biden promised the embattled Kiev government energy aid, including American know-how to increase Ukraine’s domestic energy resources and reduce dependence on Russia, which has jacked up Ukraine’s energy bills and massed its troops on their shared border.

North American oil and gas could be a powerful tool with which to de-fund Russian aggression, and also to reassure European allies that the financial downside of confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin is limited. Unfortunately, the administration has unilaterally taken this weapon out of its arsenal, because - as always for Obama and his associates - winning the next election trumps every other consideration.

Don’t think the Kremlin hasn’t noticed. For that matter, it is not just our adversaries who are losing whatever respect they had for this administration’s willingness to do anything that requires even moderate leadership exercise. Canadians are incredulous. Dave Hancock, the Premier of Alberta, promptly expressed his disappointment. Similarly chagrined is Russ Girling, the president and CEO of the company that proposed the pipeline, TransCanada.

“Another delay is inexplicable,” Girling said in an emailed statement to CBC News. It is certainly inexplicable if you buy the White House’s claims that politics have nothing to do with the decision.

It's a heck of a bad way to run a country. But it’s the Obama way, and until 2017, we’re stuck with it.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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