WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday declined again to take a position on the Keystone XL pipeline, telling an audience in Canada that she would not express her views because of an ongoing review by the State Department.
“We have differences and you won’t get me to talk about Keystone because I have steadily made clear that I’m not going to express an opinion,” said Clinton, a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate. “It is in our process and that’s where it belongs.”
Clinton was asked about U.S.-Canadian relations during a wide-ranging question-and-answer session in Winnipeg as Congress considers approving construction of the contentious, Canada-backed project. Making her first public remarks in a month, Clinton also touched upon the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address and the debate in Congress over Iran.
Her views on Keystone have been closely watched in Canada. She has said it would be inappropriate for her to comment on whether the pipeline project should move ahead, given her past role as Obama’s top diplomat and the State Department’s ongoing assessment.
Obama has vowed to veto the congressional legislation as long as the State Department is still conducting a formal review of the project.
The TransCanada Corp. pipeline would carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta and the U.S. Bakken oil field across six U.S. states to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
The House authorized construction of the pipeline last week, and the Senate is now considering the legislation. Republican and Democratic supporters hope to win final approval on the measure and send it to the White House by the end of the week.
Republicans, the Canadian government and business and labor groups have pressured the Obama administration to approve the pipeline, arguing it would create jobs and move North America toward energy independence. Environmentalists want Obama to reject the pipeline, contending it would contribute to global warming and make the U.S. more vulnerable to oil spills.
For a possible Democratic presidential candidate, the politics of Keystone are tricky. Environmentalists and labor unions have been among the party’s core supporters for years, and picking sides could alienate either group. One of the leading opponents is billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who has poured millions of dollars into a super PAC that has promoted environmental causes.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski criticized Clinton’s Keystone stance, saying if she “can’t take a position on building a pipeline Americans overwhelmingly support, how can voters expect her to make the hard choices that come with being commander-in-chief and leader of the free world?”
Appearing onstage before nearly 2,000 people at an event sponsored by CIBC, a Canadian bank, Clinton commented on several American and international developments, including:
— Paris: Clinton said the recent terror attack in Paris showed that Western democracies are “in a contest of ideas” against extremism within the Muslim world. She said the “slaughter of satire writers and Jews and police officers sharpened the true contours of this struggle.”
— Obama: Clinton said Obama’s proposals in Tuesday’s annual address to Congress could offer a good starting point for negotiations with majority Republicans and said the U.S. needs to do more for families struggling with “sagging wages and sinking hopes.” Obama and his team have not received the “credit they deserve” for their stewardship of the economy since the recession, she said.
— Iran: The former New York senator said she opposed efforts in the Senate to ramp up sanctions on Iran if a deal preventing the country from developing nuclear weapons is not reached by early July. Clinton said new sanctions could give Iran and others an excuse not to continue with the negotiations. Obama has said he will veto any Iran sanctions bill that reaches his desk.
Clinton spoke later in the day at a similar event in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where she called climate change an urgent challenge. “We’re now at the point where global action is an absolute necessity,” she said.
Clinton has largely stayed out of public view since mid-December. Her two paid speeches came as she is beginning to assemble the makings of a presidential campaign, though she has yet to announce her intentions. Clinton is working with close advisers and several former Obama campaign aides to prepare for the 2016 race and is expected to make a final decision in the spring.
Canadian Press writer Clare Clancy in Saskatoon contributed to this report.