No Flip
On the Keystone XL pipeline

Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, October 13th, 2015 in in the first Democratic debate

Clinton says her Keystone XL position isn't a flip-flop

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton says she now opposes the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Is that a flip-flop?

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said yes during the first Democratic presidential debate on Oct. 13.

"Secretary Clinton's campaign put out a lot of reversals on positions on Keystone and many other things," he said.

Clinton said no.

"You know, we know that if you are learning, you're going to change your position," Clinton said in response. "I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone."

We wanted to look at Clinton’s comments, which drew the ire of some critics.

They pointed to something Clinton said in 2010. Then, she said the administration was "inclined" to approve the pipeline extension. But isolating that single word leaves out a good bit of context.

The Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry heavy crude oil mixture from Western Canada to the United States, has long been on hold pending a review by President Barack Obama and the State Department. The administration must first determine if the pipeline "serves the national interest" because it crosses an international border. Chief opposition to the project comes from environmental groups.

Throughout her campaign in 2015, Clinton has avoided taking a position on the pipeline -- until she announced in September that she opposes it. Prior to that, Clinton’s last substantial comment on her Keystone position was in 2010 when she was secretary of state.

Speaking on Oct. 15, 2010, with the Commonwealth Club, a public forum in California, Clinton took a question asking if the administration would be willing to "reconsider" the pipeline. Here’s Clinton’s response:

"Well, there hasn't been a final decision made. (Crosstalk) Probably not. And we -- but we haven't finished all of the analysis. So as I say, we've not yet signed off on it. But we are inclined to do so, and we are for several reasons -- going back to one of your original questions -- we're either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada. And until we can get our act together as a country and figure out that clean, renewable energy is in both our economic interests and the interests of our planet -- (applause) -- I mean, I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone how deeply disappointed the president and I are about our inability to get the kind of legislation through the Senate that the United States was seeking."

A couple of days later in 2010, a State Department spokesman said, "her words obviously stand," and "her response reflected the status of the Keystone XL pipeline."

So yes, Clinton indicated that the administration at the time was "inclined" to sign off on the pipeline. But she did say multiple times that the analysis was not complete -- leaving open the possibility that the administration could backtrack if negative information were to come forward. The answer was positive toward the pipeline’s prospects, but she did not in any way say she supported it unequivocally.

In a 2011 news conference with the Canadian foreign minister, Clinton answered a couple questions about the administration’s preliminary Keystone XL review. But she did not indicate her position beyond vague comments such as, "We are leaving no stone unturned in this process."

Our conclusion

Clinton said, "I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone."

In 2010, she said the administration was "inclined" to back it, but she qualified that statement by noting that the analysis was not complete, and the administration had not taken a final position. While this shows a more positive attitude toward Keystone XL than Clinton’s position today, it was not a firm stance.

Other than that one comment, Clinton did not indicate her position on Keystone until she announced that she opposed it in September 2015.

We rate Clinton's position a No Flip.