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Hillary Clinton heads to Canada amid Keystone XL debate

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has so far avoided taking a position on the Keystone XL pipeline, is sure to face the issue again on Wednesday in a return to Canada as Congress considers approving construction of the contentious project backed by the United States’ northern neighbor.The former U.S. secretary of state was to headline events in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in her first public speeches of 2015, a day after President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address. Clinton is the leading Democratic contender to succeed Obama if she again runs for president, as widely expected.

Clinton offered praise of Obama’s annual address, saying on Twitter that he “pointed way to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class.”

But it remains unclear if Clinton will side with Obama on Keystone.

To date, Clinton has remained neutral on whether the U.S. should allow construction of the TransCanada Corp. pipeline, which 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.

Obama has vowed to veto the bill as long as the State Department is still conducting a formal review of the project. Clinton has said previously that 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.

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 toward North American 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 presidential candidate, the politics of Keystone are tricky. Environmentalists and labor unions have been among the Democratic 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.

Clinton has largely stayed out of public view since mid-December and her two paid speeches, sponsored by CIBC, a Canadian bank, come 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.

KEN THOMAS, Associated Press