The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 12-10 to recommend the bill, with committee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., voting with the committee's 10 Republicans.
Still, the vote was likely no more than a political move for Landrieu, who is facing a tough re-election, and has been touting her role as committee chair as what gives her the ability to guide legislation favorable to her state and its powerful energy industry. The bill is unlikely to ever reach the Senate floor -- Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., signaled his opposition again Tuesday -- and President Obama might well veto the legislation if it did ever reach his desk.
"This vote seems more like a cheerleading exercise," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. "The obstacle to getting Keystone built is Senator Reid."
"With all due respect, madam chairman, this is very political," added Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho. "I want to commend you for having this hearing today, but we all know this isn't going anywhere."
But Democrats pointed out that Republicans owned their share of the blame for failing to get the measure approved: In May, Reid offered an up-or-down vote on the bill in exchange for a clean vote on a smaller energy efficiency bill that was then blocked by a Republican filibuster.
Landrieu said the choice to build the Keystone pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, is about protecting American interests.
"I think the people that I represent, most people in the United States, would rather get their oil from Canada," she said, although the State Department has said the Keystone oil would more likely displace Venezuelan crude imports, not Middle Eastern oil.
The State Department also said it would directly or indirectly create more than 42,000 jobs, although it might also result in 18 to 30 crude-by-rail deaths each year. Environmentalists also oppose the construction of the pipeline, saying it would exacerbate climate change and damage the ecosystems through which it passes.