Senator John McCain, the 30-year Senate veteran diagnosed last week with an aggressive form of brain cancer, recently returned to Congress to help advance a Republican healthcare plan that even he decried as a “shell of a bill”.
Democrats and Republicans alike stood and applauded as the outspoken 80-year-old stepped onto the floor, minutes after arriving from his home in Arizona. He cautiously embraced his Senate colleagues before casting his crucial vote: A “yes” on the motion to begin debate on a bill to repeal and replaceObamacare.
The bill Mr John McCain helped to advance – a version of the “repeal and replace” bill passed by the House – is notably unpopular with voters. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it will result in 23 million people losing health coverage in the next 10 years. Even as Mr McCain was entering the Capitol, protesters were being removedfrom it, some of them screaming, “Don’t kll us, kill the bill!”
JOHN McCAIN RETURNS TO SENATE
The irony was not lost on some.
"So it happened," tweeted MSNBC host Joy Ann Reid. "John McCain returned to the Senate to a standing ovation, and promptly voted to take away millions of people's healthcare."
Even so, the vote marked a decisive victory for Senate Republicans, who had thus far failed to muster the 50 votes necessary to even debate the legislation. Even Tuesday's motion to proceed passed with the bare minimum of 51 Republican votes, forcing Vice PresidentMike Pence to step in to break the tie.
President Donald Trump quickly took to Twitter to congratulate Republicans, and to thank Mr John McCain for turning out for the “vital” vote.
“Thank you for coming to D.C. for such a vital vote,” he tweeted. “Congrats to all Rep. We can now deliver great healthcare to all Americans!”
Mr McCain, however, marked the occasion with a speech condemning the legislation he had just voted onto the floor.
“I voted for the motion to proceed to allow debate to continue and amendments to be offered,” he said. “I will not vote for this bill as it is today”.
“We’re getting nothing done my friends, we’re getting nothing done,” he said. “All we've really done this year is confirm Neil Gorsuch.”
On the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, he said: "All we’ve managed to do is make more popular a policy that wasn’t very popular when we started trying to get rid of it."
The fiery Senator went on to condemn the lack of “regular order” in the Senate, and the secretive tactics employed by both parties. He accused the GOP leadership of devising their health care proposal “behind closed doors” and then “then springing it on sceptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing”.
What is truly needed, John McCain said, is input from both sides of the aisle.
“Our health care insurance system is a mess,” he said. “We all know it, those who support Obamacare and those who oppose it. Something has to be done.”
Thanks to Mr McCain’s vote, something probably will: The motion to proceed sets off 20 hours of debate on the bill, ending with a vote to pass on Thursday. Amendments can also be added during that time period, meaning the bill that’s voted on on Thursday will likely look nothing like Wednesday’s version.
And even if that bill does not pass, Mr John McCain seemed to suggest that the important part was trying.
“Incremental progress, compromises that each side criticise but also accept, just plain muddling through to chip away at problems and keep our enemies from doing their worst isn’t glamorous or exciting,” he said. “...But it’s usually the most we can expect from our system of government, operating in a country as diverse and quarrelsome and free as ours.”