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Robert F. Bukaty/AP

The GOP-controlled Senate's surprise failure to pass a rule repealing an Obama-era methane rule comes down to one simple thing: time.

"I think the worst influential force was time," said one well-connected oil-industry lobbyist who backed passage of the repeal.

Why it matters: Congress can only repeal recently completed regulations within a finite window, and that window was closing Wednesday.

Just days after President Trump was inaugurated, the GOP-controlled Congress agreed on several Obama-era rules it would seek to repeal using a law that allows it to overturn recently completed regulations. The methane rule was the very last up to bat, and the Senate didn't take it up until the last-minute.

The delay allowed groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and Taxpayers for Common Sense to keep pressuring moderate members from both parties on the issue from different angles: climate change and the environment (methane is a potent greenhouse gas) and taxpayer money (the rule requires companies to capture instead of inadvertently emit methane, the primary component of gas, from wells on federal lands).

Time allowed a group of Republican senators from states with big ethanol interests to conjure up a demand that they would only vote yes if they got a policy backing ethanol in return. This muddied the waters in the whip count, according to people familiar with the effort.

Time allowed for coincidental occurrences, including:

  • Some stakeholders speculated whether Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), voted against the measure because he was upset about a separate nominee process. McCain said in a statement he voted against it because he thinks the government should regulate methane emissions.
  • Others speculated whether there was any collateral impact from the firing of FBI director James Comey. "It's not that I didn't think it last night," said Ryan Alexander, president of the taxpayers group. "I don't think that was the motivation for the three Republicans who voted with us."

Go deeper

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas case, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

Officials warn 5 key tech sectors will determine whether China overtakes U.S.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. intelligence officials responsible for protecting advanced technologies have narrowed their focus to five key sectors: artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnology, semiconductors and autonomous systems.

Why it matters: China and Russia are employing a variety of legal and illegal methods to undermine and overtake U.S. dominance in these critical industries, officials warned in a new paper. Their success will determine "whether America remains the world’s leading superpower or is eclipsed by strategic competitors."

5 hours ago - Health

Pfizer says COVID vaccine over 90% effective in kids

Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said their COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective at protecting children between the ages of 5 and 11 from symptomatic infections from the virus, according to a study posted online by the FDA Friday.

Why it matters: Pfizer is seeking an emergency use authorization to vaccinate children — one of the last groups of Americans still largely ineligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine.