WASHINGTON ― Walking into the Senate late Thursday evening, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was unusually tight-lipped about how he planned to vote on a legacy-defining piece of legislation.
“Wait for the show,” he said moments before a key vote on the GOP health care bill.
And what a show it was.
In a surprise twist seemingly made for the movies, McCain delivered a disastrous, and likely final, blow to a bill that would have eliminated core components of the Affordable Care Act. His dramatic “no” vote prompted gasps and then quick applause from spectators in the Senate gallery, as well as some Democrats on the floor.
The Arizona Republican joined fellow GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, as well as 46 of the chamber’s Democrats and both of its independents to defeat the so-called Health Care Freedom Act.
In the end, on the final vote that mattered, McCain’s actions matched the words he spoke earlier this week in an impassioned speech from the Senate floor. “Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order,” he pleaded with his colleagues on Tuesday, sharply criticizing the closed-door, partisan process Republicans used to craft their health care bill.
But not everyone had faith he would come through in the end.
McCain stuck with his party to advance debate on the bill, even though he said he did not support it and even though he felt the way it was crafted trampled on Senate traditions. He voted with his GOP colleagues throughout the week on several more measures that did not pass, including far more disastrous legislation that would have left 22 million people uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Many people online, including this reporter, noted that his actions contradicted his speech on Tuesday. Others saw hypocrisy in his return to Washington to vote to advance a bill that would take away health care from millions of people after he was recently diagnosed with brain cancer.
“80,000 a year get a diagnosis of brain cancer. How many won’t be insured after this vote, next vote? I know of one who will be insured,” tweeted Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
McCain, in true McCain fashion, proved all the naysayers wrong.
“This whole episode began with an incredibly moving speech by Sen. McCain when he came back [from surgery], and concluded with a powerful speech by Sen. Schumer that had a common theme: It’s time to start working together again,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said after the vote.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed.
“John McCain is a hero and has courage and does the right thing,” he said.
He added: “He’s a hero. He’s a hero of mine.”