Democrats Are Already Trying to Make Themselves the Party of Protecting Air Travelers

When Trump says it’s “horrible” …

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The pain of transportation fiascos tends to be sharp but short-lived, but the story of David Dao—the 69-year-old doctor wrestled off a United Airlines flight by the Chicago Aviation Police—may be different.

“That was horrible,” President Trump told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Dao’s lawyer said his client had suffered a concussion, a broken nose, and lost his two front teeth when he lost his seat on a flight to Louisville on Sunday evening.

Enter the Democrats, who appear to be seizing a moment of bipartisan outrage to advance a hastily drafted set of airline regulations. For starters, Dems on the House Transportation Committee have asked Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to share the results of her department’s investigation into the incident.

Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic senator from Maryland, is seeking co-sponsors for a new bill called the Customers Not Cargo Act, which would direct Chao to revise the Department of Transportation’s “oversale” rule to prevent passengers from being removed after they’ve been seated.

And Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut says he’s working on a broader “passenger bill of rights” to address this issue and others. (Though as Kathryn Wolfe and Lauren Gardner note in Politico, the last attempt to impose some kind of passenger protections on the airline industry took five years.)

On the one hand, it’s easy to be cynical about politicians trying to grab their place in the outrage cycle. On the other, as I wrote Tuesday, it feels like Democrats should embrace this Square Deal strain of liberalism. (It’s not meatpacking anymore: Americans’ least-favorite consumer-facing industries are airlines, health insurance, phone companies, cable and satellite TV, and internet providers.)

Now is an especially good time to agitate for a new raft of consumer protections since the Republican Party is currently undertaking unpopular attacks on those very things. In February, President Trump delayed an Obama-era rule that required financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interests when picking retirement accounts. Last week, he signed a law to scuttle another Obama-era rule that forbade internet service providers from selling user data without permission.

And what’s on deck is a battle over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the most significant legal advances for financial industry customers in the past half-century, which House Republicans would like to abolish—reducing oversight of payday loans, private education loans, credit card contracts, and more.

That shouldn’t be popular with constituents. If Democrats do their job right, David Dao won’t be the only one losing his seat.