Senator John McCain made headlines early Friday morning when he cast an unexpected “no” vote against the Senate GOP’s Health Care Freedom Act (a.k.a. “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act). His vote was indeed surprising and decisive, and therefore newsworthy. But it was Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins who stood consistently in opposition to these most recent attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement. And without their “no” votes, McCain’s would not have mattered.
Not only did Murkowski and Collins join McCain in voting against the Health Care Freedom Act, they were also the only two Republicans to vote against a motion to proceed on ACA repeal efforts earlier in the week. And they did so, despite men in their own party, in the White House, and on the internet openly threatening them. To sum it up: yet again, women in the Senate nevertheless persisted.
Over the last week, Murkowski and Collins have been called “witches” and “bitches” online. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said that he would challenge them to a duel ― if they were men, that is. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) defended President Donald Trump’s particular targeting of Sen. Murkowski, telling MSNBC’s Ali Velshi that “somebody needs to go over there to that Senate and snatch a knot in their ass.” (For those who are unfamiliar with the phrase, “snatch a knot in their ass” means “to hit”.)
And it’s Sen. Murkowski, who represents the deep-red state of Alaska, who arguably has the most to lose from breaking with her party, especially because she has consistently expressed opposition this year to legislation that would “defund” Planned Parenthood. (Sen. Collins represents the much bluer state of Maine.)
“Don’t forget about the two women senators, who were there from the beginning.”
This is likely why Murkowski has faced the brunt of President Trump’s particular ire. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that Murkowski had “really let the Republicans, and our country, down.” Later that day, the Alaska Dispatch News reported that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had called both Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) after Tuesday’s health care vote to communicate that Murkowski’s vote “had put Alaska’s future with the administration in jeopardy.”
Murkowski ― who is no stranger to facing opposition, having won her 2010 Senate race through a highly impressive write-in campaign ― responded to Trump’s needling with aplomb.
“My vote yesterday was from my heart for the people that I represent. And I’m gonna continue working hard for Alaskans and just focus on that,” she told a reporter who stopped her in the hall to ask about Trump’s tweet: “I have to focus on my job. I have to focus on what I came here to do.”
To an extent, McCain’s surprising and deciding vote has overshadowed the political risks Murkowski and Collins took in standing with their values and their constituents ― even among Democrats in the Senate. Luckily, other women senators have their back.
HuffPost’s Igor Bobic was at the Senate just after Friday’s early morning vote. After the vote, Democrats expressed relief over the bill’s failure. They also sang the praises of McCain.
Asked whether the Arizona Republican was possibly the only senator, given his long, bipartisan record, who could have bucked his party at such a moment, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed.
“Given his stature, his remarks at the beginning when he came in, it moved everyone,” he said. “And I think that helped. He’s a hero. He’s a hero of mine.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who stood nearby, interjected with an aside.
“Also,” she said. “Don’t forget about the two women senators, who were there from the beginning.”
Igor Bobic contributed reporting to this piece.