WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2016 - Senate Republicans failed to overcome the presidential veto of a measure to kill the Obama administration’s Clean Water Act rule, but they plan to keep pressing the issue. 

Democrats on Thursday blocked the Senate from moving to an override vote on the veto. A 52-40 vote to invoke cloture and take up the veto was eight votes short of the majority needed, ending the latest GOP attempt to scrap the rule, which redefines the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) that the law regulates.

Missing from Thursday’s vote was GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas, who supported the WOTUS disapproval resolution when it was on the Senate floor in November and passed, 53-44. Also missing among the candidates were Republican Marco Rubio of Florida, who didn’t vote in November either, and Democrat Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who voted against the measure in November. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., supported the measure both times. 

The three Democrats who broke party ranks and supported the measure in November voted for the cloture motion Thursday, too: Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. A two-thirds majority would have been needed to override the veto, even if the cloture motion had received 60 votes.

Senate Republicans took another at the swing administration over the issue before the day was out, releasing a letter asking for a Justice Department investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency’s use of social media to promote the WOTUS rule. 

The letter, signed by Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe, said the department should determine whether there were criminal violations. The Government Accountability Office said the EPA violated an appropriations law when the agency used the Thunderclap platform to spread its pro-WOTUS message on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, 

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called Thursday’s vote a “waste of time” and said it was “unconscionable” for Republicans to push the WOTUS issue in light of the Flint, Michigan, drinking water crisis. 

“Republicans are so wedded to ideological purity they have lost touch with reality,” Reid said. “They have somehow failed to recognize that clean water is a basic priority for all Americans.” 

Republicans are likely to force additional votes on the issue ahead of the fall elections. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told Agri-Pulse he will use the appropriations process to try to enact a provision that would keep the rule from being enforced if pending court stays are lifted. The White House blocked such a provision from being included in the fiscal 2016 omnibus spending bill.

There also could be an effort as early as next week to bring up the issue when the Senate considers an energy bill. 

The disapproval resolution was drafted under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to reject major new regulations under an expedited process that doesn’t need a 60-vote margin to initially move through the Senate. 

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the WOTUS rule was a “federal power grab” that the administration is spinning as “some kind of clean water measure.” He said WOTUS "would grant federal bureaucrats dominion over nearly every piece of land that touches a pothole, ditch or puddle.”

Inhofe, R-Okla., said that by vetoing the disapproval resolution Obama is “aligning himself with an illegal rule and is encouraging illegal agency activities and the unauthorized use of taxpayer dollars. This has to stop. No member of this body should associate himself or herself with these activities.”

In his veto message, Obama said the disapproval resolution would “block the progress represented by this rule and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty and clarity needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water.”