McCain's 'no' vote trips up GOP's push to nix Obamacare
WASHINGTON — The Senate dealt a devastating blow to Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act by defeating a GOP “skinny repeal” bill early Friday morning.
Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) joined with Democrats to oppose the measure, a major loss for President Trump and the Republican congressional agenda.
McCain, who on Tuesday had voted for a motion to proceed to the bill after returning to Washington following surgery for a brain tumor, held out all day, including in a news conference where he criticized the partisan process that led to the after-midnight vote.
His surprise decision to vote no came after a prolonged drama on the Senate floor. As the legislators moved toward the final vote, which took place at about 1:30 a.m., suspense built on the Senate floor. McCain was engaged in a lengthy, animated conversation with Vice President Mike Pence, who had come to the Capitol expecting to cast the tie-breaking vote for the bill. A few minutes later, when McCain ambled over to the Democratic side of the chamber, he was hugged by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.).
McCain later said in a statement that he believed Obamacare should be repealed, but that the skinny repeal bill “offered no replacement to actually reform our health care system and deliver affordable, quality health care to our citizens.”
Republican lawmakers have had several fits and starts this year, including a dramatic vote in the Senate earlier this week — but the failure lays bare a hard-to-swallow political reality for Republicans after months of painful negotiations and soul-searching: There is little will left in the GOP to gut a health care law that the party has been railing against for seven years.
The 49-to-51 vote was a very humiliating setback for the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has nurtured his reputation as a master tactician and spent the last three months trying to devise a repeal bill that could win support from members of his caucus.
Speaking after the vote, McConnell looked stunned and lamented the vote and the inability of the GOP to fulfill its long-term campaign pledge.
“This is clearly a disappointing moment,” McConnell said. “Our constituents have suffered through an awful lot under Obamacare. We thought they deserved better. It’s why I and many of my colleagues did as we promised and voted to repeal this failed law. We told our constituents we would vote that way. And when the moment came, when the moment came, most of us did.”
In his closing remarks, he said that “it’s time to move on” — although it was unclear if he meant the Senate will move on from repealing Obamacare.
Unlike previous setbacks, Friday morning’s health care bill defeat had the ring of finality. After the result was announced, the Senate quickly moved on to routine business. McConnell canceled a session scheduled for Friday and announced that the Senate would move on to new business next week.
The “skinny repeal” bill, as it became known at the Capitol this week, would still have had broad effects on health care. The bill would have increased the number of people who are uninsured by 15 million next year compared with current law, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Premiums for people buying insurance on their own would have increased roughly 20%, CBO said.
In addition, the bill would have made it much easier for states to waive federal requirements that health insurance plans provide consumers with a minimum set of benefits such as maternity care and prescription drugs. It would have eliminated funds provided by the ACA for a wide range of prevention and public health programs.
“We are not celebrating, we are relieved,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said after the vote. “All of us were so inspired,” he said, briefly pausing and choking back in an emotional moment, “by the speech and by the life of the senator from Arizona.” He repeated sentiments from the speech McCain made this week and called for bipartisanship. If the Senate could start working “the way it had always worked, with both sides to blame for deterioration, we will do a better job for our country,” Schumer added.