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Some Dems voting to repeal Obama-issued regulations
Some House Democrats have repeatedly voted to overturn regulations that were issued under President Obama, breaking with their party.
At least one Democrat has voted for 13 of the last 14 resolutions passed by the House under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a tool that gives Republicans the power to cancel regulations issued in the final months of the Obama administration.
Republicans found the greatest Democratic support in their vote to roll back a rule that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to buy a gun.
Six Democrats backed that measure, which canceled a requirement that the Social Security Administration report people who receive disability benefits and have a mental health condition to the FBI's background check system.
A few Democrats also broke ranks on votes to eliminate the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council's so-called blacklisting rule, end the Interior Department's stream protection rule and cancel a Health and Human Services regulation that prevented states from withholding funds for abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), a longtime opponent of abortion rights, voted against Obama's Planned Parenthood rule, saying he wanted to return funding decisions to the states.
"It's certainly not something that I support," Lipinski told The Hill. "The states should have the ability to decide if they're going to not direct funding to organizations that provide abortions."
Lipinski also joined the Republicans in voting to overturn a rule limiting the power of states to require drug tests for receiving federal unemployment benefits. Encouraging drug tests, Lipinski said, would both help government officials identify addicts and incentivize users to "get cleaned up."
"I know there's a lot of disagreement over this on my side," Lipinski said. "[But] we have a big drug-addiction problem right now, and maybe this is the way to help people get the help that they need."
For the lawmakers who bucked their party on the votes, the political fallout will almost certainly be negligible.
That's because almost all of those rogue lawmakers are either Capitol Hill veterans, safely seated in districts where serious challenges are rare and reelection is all but assured, or they represent regions where defying their party on regulatory issues will play well with voters.
Lipinski, now in his seventh term, said he's heard no criticism from constituents over the votes but did get "the usual" grief from Democrats defending Obama's legacy.
"Obviously, out here [in Washington], both sides stick with the party," he said.
Lipinski won reelection overwhelmingly in 2014, with 65 percent of the vote, and ran unopposed in 2016, though he could be a GOP target in 2018.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) voted affirmatively on 10 of the 14 resolutions, more than any other Democrat.
"Anybody that gets up here to vote with the party is doing a disservice to the public. I come up here to do what I think is right," he said. "If I agree with the Democrats as a Democrat, I'll do it, but if I disagree, I will disagree."
Cuellar said he's been voting this way for the last 12 years and doesn't fear any political fallout. Like Lipinski, he won reelection with a comfortable margin - 66 percent to 31 percent - in a district where Hillary Clinton
prevailed in the presidential election in November.
"Are all the protections gone? Of course not," he said. "The ones I feel are unnecessary, of course, I'm going to vote against. It doesn't mean that if you vote against that rule every protection for water or every protection for workers is gone."
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) was next in line, voting for seven of the 14 resolutions.
He supported overturning the rule prohibiting the coal industry from polluting streams near mines, the rule requiring energy companies to disclose the payments they make to foreign governments and the rule creating protections for Alaskan bears and other predators.
He also voted to remove restrictions on state drug testing for unemployment benefits and the rule barring states from withholding money for abortion providers.
"I'm 100 percent pro-life. Why wouldn't I vote that way?" he asked.
Peterson noted that he was behind efforts in the mid-1990s to pass the CRA.
"We were trying to rein in regulations back then," he said. "We have given these agencies way more power than they should have. They have more power to legislate than we do."
Peterson hails from a rural Minnesota district that favored President Trump by a whopping 62 percent to 31 percent - Trump's largest margin in a district where the Democrat won the House race. Given the region's conservative tilt, Peterson's votes to gut Obama-era regulations will likely prove a credit, not a liability, in the eyes of voters, who handed Peterson his 14th term by a slim margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.
Though a GOP target in 2018, Peterson said he's not at all concerned about his voting record hurting his chances for reelection.
"I've been doing this for 27 years," he said. "It's not any surprise to my constituents."
California Rep. Jim Costa (D) voted to repeal the stream protection rule, the rule requiring federal contractors to report past labor law violations when procuring government contracts and a pollution rule for oil and natural gas drillers.
"My view is, not withstanding good intentions, the unintended consequences of the regulations that are often promulgated have very devastating results in terms of people who have to comply with them," he said.
"I look at this regulatory re-evaluation as an opportunity to pick and choose, from my own perspective, which make sense and which I think are an overreach."
Like the others, Costa, who won in November with 58 percent of the vote, said he's simply doing what's best for his district.
"When you have this kind of [state-federal] overlap, I think it's incumbent upon me, as the federal representative, to take that into account," he said.
Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who is a GOP target in 2018, voted with five other Democrats to repeal the Obama gun rule. She also joined four other Democrats in voting to repeal both the Education Department's rule limiting federal grants for teacher preparation programs and the Labor Department rule requiring employers to keep records on workplace injuries and illnesses for five years.
Sinema is a relative newcomer in a red-leaning district near Phoenix that favored Trump. But while the third-term Arizonian has been a past target of the Republicans, her margin of victory has grown with her incumbency, and she won in November easily, 61 percent to 39 percent.
When asked about her support for the resolutions on her way out of the Capitol Thursday, Sinema said she votes for bills she agrees with and hopped in her car.
Conversely, a handful of Republicans voted against the resolutions, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), who voted no on eight of the 14 resolutions.
As a mirror reflection of Peterson's race, Ros-Lehtinen found victory in a blue-leaning district that favored Clinton by 20 points - the Democratic nominee's best showing in a region where the GOP won the House. With that in mind, Ros-Lehtinen's defense of Obama's regulations will preclude potential attacks from future Democratic challengers.
Ros-Lehtinen fared better than Peterson in 2016, winning a 15th term with 55 percent of the vote, but both lawmakers will likely be high on the opposing party's target list in 2018.
"I look at the them individually and how they might impact the environment, which is something my constituents and I care deeply about," Ros-Lehtinen said.
"It's not a cookie-cutter yes or a cookie-cutter no. I look at them individually."
The only resolution that passed without a single Democratic vote was to overturn rules that require states to develop a system to hold schools accountable under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Many of the CRA resolutions have yet to pass the Senate. Trump has signed three of them so far.