John McCain, ex­pected to save health bill, be­came the ex­e­cu­tioner

Vet­eran stuns Sen­ate by vot­ing no, then goes home to chemo­ther­apy

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ER­ICA WER­NER

WASH­ING­TON — John McCain seemed poised to be the saviour of the GOP health bill when he re­turned to the Capi­tol de­spite a brain can­cer di­ag­no­sis. He turned out to be the ex­e­cu­tioner. The long­time Ari­zona sen­a­tor stunned pretty much ev­ery­one Fri­day by turn­ing on his party and his pres­i­dent and join­ing two other GOP se­na­tors in vot­ing “no” on the Repub­li­cans’ fi­nal ef­fort to re­peal “Oba­macare.”

That killed the bill. And it also dealt what looks like a death blow to the Repub­li­can Party’s years of prom­ises to get rid of Barack Obama’s health law, pledges that helped the GOP win con­trol of the House, the Sen­ate and the White House.

It was a mo­ment burn­ing with drama, irony and con­tra­dic­tions, play­ing out live on a tense Sen­ate floor.

Eighty years old and in the twi­light of a re­mark­able ca­reer, McCain lived up to his rep­u­ta­tion as a mav­er­ick. When he walked into the well of the Sen­ate around 1:30 a.m. and gave a thumbs-down to the leg­is­la­tion, there were audi­ble gasps. Democrats briefly broke into cheers, which Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer quickly waved his arm to quiet.

Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell stood stone-faced, his arms crossed. McCain had just saved the sig­na­ture leg­isla­tive achieve­ment of the man who beat him for the pres­i­dency in 2008, a law the sen­a­tor him­self had vig­or­ously cam­paigned against while seek­ing a sixth Sen­ate term last year.

Fri­day af­ter­noon, McCain’s of­fice an­nounced he was re­turn­ing to Ari­zona to be­gin ra­di­a­tion and chemo­ther­apy treat­ments for his brain tu­mour.

Af­ter so many years as a sen­a­tor, with so lit­tle left to lose, McCain had taken a stand for the Sen­ate he used to in­habit, the one where he made deals across the aisle with the likes of Ted Kennedy, not the riven, stale­mated Con- gress of to­day.

“We have seen the world’s great­est de­lib­er­a­tive body suc­cumb to par­ti­san ran­cour and grid­lock,” McCain said in a state­ment. “The vote last night presents the Sen­ate with an op­por­tu­nity to start fresh. It is now time to re­turn to reg­u­lar or­der with in­put from all of our mem­bers — Repub­li­cans and Democrats — and bring a bill to the floor of the Sen­ate for amend­ment and de­bate.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tweeted his dis­ap­proval of McCain’s “no’” vote, as well as those of fel­low GOP se­na­tors Su­san Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska whose op­po­si­tion had been ex­pected. But a pres­i­dent who once mocked McCain’s years as a pris­oner of war in Viet­nam did not have much sway with the sen­a­tor when it counted.

“John McCain is blessed with an in­ter­nal gy­ro­scope of right and wrong,” said Schumer, who ne­go­ti­ated a sweep­ing im­mi­gra­tion bill with McCain sev­eral years ago and has been talk­ing with him fre­quently of late.

“He gets an­gry, for sure, but when push comes to shove and there are brass tacks, that in­ter­nal gy­ro­scope of right and wrong guides him.”

Vice-Pres­i­dent Mike Pence lob­bied McCain right up to the end. The two men hud­dled on the Sen­ate floor for about a halfhour be­fore the vote.

As their con­ver­sa­tion ended, McCain and Pence smiled and pat­ted each other on the back, and McCain walked across the floor to talk with Schumer. About a dozen Democrats gath­ered around him. McCain held out his hands, looked up­ward and mouthed an ex­ple­tive. His face looked ex­as­per­ated.

And then, as Demo­cratic Sen. Chris Mur­phy of Con­necti­cut de­scribed it later in a post on the web­site Medium, “Time seems to stand still.”

The roll was called, and Collins and Murkowski both voted no. With Democrats unan­i­mously op­posed, McCon­nell could lose only two Repub­li­cans in the 52-48 Sen­ate.

Fi­nally McCain came to the front, raised his arm to get the at­ten­tion of the tally clerk, ges­tured no, and walked away.

JUSTIN SUL­LI­VAN, GETTY IM­AGES

Sen. John McCain is pur­sued by re­porters af­ter cast­ing a “no” vote on Capi­tol Hill early Fri­day.

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