Within weeks of the 2014 midterm elections, the new Republican-led Congress made clear one of its priorities would be trying to limit the Clean Water Act. The Obama administration's EPA expanded pollution restrictions on previously unregulated waters -- through a policy called the Waters of the United States rule -- and conservatives said this could not stand.
And for the most part, Republicans took some steps towards their goal. Using "a rarely invoked law known as the Congressional Review Act," GOP lawmakers voted in November for a measure, championed by far-right Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Okla.), to curtail the Clean Water Act. It passed both chambers.
As a practical matter, though, Republicans were just wasting their own time -- they knew President Obama would veto the effort, and this week, he did exactly that.
President Obama issued the ninth veto of his presidency Tuesday, rejecting a congressional resolution that would have overturned federal regulations on clean water. [...] "Too many of our waters have been left vulnerable," Obama said in a veto message to Congress. "Pollution from upstream sources ends up in the rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and coastal waters near which most Americans live and on which they depend for their drinking water, recreation, and economic development."
GOP lawmakers knew they'd never have the votes necessary to override the veto, but they nevertheless moved forward on the idea today, and came up far short. A veto override would require 67 votes in the Senate, and a procedural vote today needed 60 votes. Republicans managed to get 52.
Or put another way, this priority from the GOP's wish list will have to wait until next year, when Republicans hope to control the House, the Senate, and the White House.
But what struck me as especially noteworthy about this is the timing.
The water crisis in Flint is, to be sure, unrelated to the Clean Water Act and the Waters of the United States rule. But as much of the country is stunned by the Michigan city's dangerous, effectively poisoned water supply, congressional Republicans want to fight the White House now on limiting the EPA's power and scaling back the Clean Water Act?
Do they not see how that might look bad under the circumstances?