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John McCain's flip-flop ensures Senate Obamacare repeal fails

Sahil Bhalla | Updated on: 28 July 2017, 16:09 IST

United States President Donald Trump just cannot catch a break. Since coming into office in January, Trump and his team of Republicans have managed to pass no major legislation. His latest efforts to 'repeal and replace' Obamacare have now taken a turn for the worse, and it's all thanks to Senator John McCain.

The Senate, in a dramatic late-night vote that crept into the morning of 28 July, rejected the proposed 'skinny repeal' legislation. This came on the back of their failure to muster support for a full repeal, and was a measure meant to roll back parts of the Affordable Care Act. This roll back would have left 16 million more Americans without insurance by 2026 according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office. Fortunately, John McCain came to the rescue, casting the decisive vote and killing the repeal 49-51.

Let's roll back

For seven years and many months, the Republicans have been on a quest to repeal Obamacare. Their quest has come in different shapes and forms, and each time it appeared dead, it would somehow resurrect itself. A couple of days ago, Vice-President Mike Pence broke the tie in the Senate on a procedural motion brought forward by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

The motion was to take up a discussion of the health-care bill that the House of Representatives had passed back in May. If McCain had voted against it, the repeal effort would have been finished earlier. However, with McCain's support, McConnell and his comrades managed to sneak through with enough votes to keep the bill alive.

Two days later, however, in a dramatic floor vote, the Republicans received another jolt, thanks to McCain voting the other way.

The U-turn

This key campaign goal has gotten nowhere for the Republicans, six months into Trump's presidency. Three GOP votes - Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona - was all it took to sink the repeal. The Senate Republicans had introduced the plan late Thursday, mere hours before they were to vote on an amendment to take up the bill.

McCain, long known for bucking the party stance, delivered a sucker punch to Trump and torpedoed his hopes of passing legislation. It wasn't an easy decision for McCain, who committed his most rebellious move yet. After casting his vote, McCain walked over to the Democratic side of the chamber to rapturous applause. He defied the Republicans on the one issue that had united them for many years. VP Pence spent 20 minutes trying to get McCain to change his mind, but to no avail.

"I sat there with Senator McCain. I think both of us recognize that it’s very hard to disappoint your colleagues," said Sen. Murkowski, who voted 'no' throughout the process. "And I know that there is disappointment because it was the three votes that Senator McCain, Senator Collins, and I cast that did not allow this bill to move forward. And that is difficult."

After the vote though, Trump took to Twitter once again. “3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!”

McCain's office, however, put out this statement after the vote:

"I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of Obamacare was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict-party line basis without a single Republican vote. We should not make the mistakes of the past that have led to Obamacare’s collapse, including in my home state of Arizona where premiums are skyrocketing and health care providers are fleeing the marketplace."

A hero's return

Back on Tuesday afternoon, McCain received a standing ovation from his colleagues. This was the first time McCain was on the Senate floor since being diagnosed with brain cancer, and he didn't let the opportunity go. McCain talked about how the Senate was getting nothing done, and how the Republicans way of working was doing more harm than good.

"I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to co-operate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us. Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them. They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.

"Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary manoeuvres that require.

"We’re getting nothing done. . . . We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the Administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don’t think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn’t."

First published: 28 July 2017, 16:06 IST
Sahil Bhalla @IMSahilBhalla

Sahil is a correspondent at Catch. A gadget freak, he loves offering free tech support to family and friends. He studied at Sarah Lawrence College, New York and worked previously for Scroll. He selectively boycotts fast food chains, worries about Arsenal, and travels whenever and wherever he can. Sahil is an unapologetic foodie and a film aficionado.