Every single Senate Republican and Joe Manchin voted explicitly to make our air dirtier—and Dianne Feinstein helped them do it.
On Wednesday, by a vote of 50–49, Senate Republicans and Manchin passed a resolution to nullify an Environmental Protection Agency rule that seeks to reduce toxic air pollution from heavy-duty vehicles.
The EPA estimates the rule will prevent up to 2,900 deaths, 6,700 hospital and emergency room visits, and 18,000 cases of childhood asthma. Beyond the vitality benefits, the rule has material ones too: 78,000 fewer lost days of work, 1.1 million fewer lost school days for kids, $29 billion in annual net benefits.
And because of Feinstein’s absence, and Manchin’s continued cowardice, corporate-wedded Republicans were able to advance the bill to cancel all those benefits.
To be clear, Republicans are entirely at fault for so doggedly pursuing deregulation, day in and day out. In the wake of Norfolk Southern’s toxic derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, we are reminded that this is the same political movement that has had senators like J.D. Vance and Josh Hawley and figureheads like Tucker Carlson appropriating populist bona fides to pretend they care about protecting everyday people from corporate malfeasance and environmental degradation. But when it comes down to it, it’s all smog and mirrors.
But the point of an opposition party is indeed to serve as the opposition. And with Feinstein’s absence, and Manchin’s insistence on showing himself to be just as captured by corporate greed as the next conservative, Democrats are not, in fact, serving as meaningful opposition to a corrupt political movement.
Democrats can’t confirm judges—which, as should be apparent by now, is crucial for instilling any lasting power to protect the basic civil liberties and rights of millions of people against right-wing assaults. Now Democrats can’t even protect low-bar environmental protection rules from being assailed by industry-captured Republicans. What next?
Sure, the resolution may not survive a White House veto, but consider what this kind of dynamic signifies more broadly.
As Alex Pareene wrote in TNR, “If you don’t want to run on big ideas, you should be obligated to run on making shit work, and that should require a commitment to actually making shit work. It is incumbent on those who reject revolution to make the current system not require it.”
If this current system is to even be perceived as superficially functional, Feinstein must either return to Washington yesterday or exit the Senate yesterday. Judges must be confirmed, and regulations meant to protect people must not only be legislatively affirmed but become proud rallying calls for Democrats to boast of to voters.
Democrats, the opposition to Republicans, must prove themselves to be exactly that, not just rhetorically but substantively. The system either works or it doesn’t—and if it doesn’t, don’t blame people for wanting to upend it.