McCain’s dramatic return to Senate this week encapsulates his career
When Sen. John McCain returned to the Senate on Tuesday, and voted to reopen the health-care debate, he was cheered by Republicans. His return signaled to the GOP that they may have the votes needed to pass their healthcare bill. But by the wee hours of the morning on Friday, when McCain voted against the GOP’s “skinny repeal” plan, the Republicans were no longer cheering. Instead, McCain was being embraced by Democrats and heralded as a hero on the left for bringing the GOP’s seven-year-long battle to repeal and replace Obamacare to a dramatic end.
This one short week, in which no one seemed to know whose side McCain was on, dramatized many major themes from his lengthy political career. He has been nicknamed “the Maverick,” while others see him as a staunch conservative. To many he is a hero, a true American patriot. He’s known for showing political courage and decency, but he has a famous temper. McCain’s long tenure in the political spotlight means the public has had ample opportunity to form those varied opinions.
McCain’s office said in a statement Friday afternoon that he was returning to Arizona to undergo treatment for brain cancer. But the days before he left Washington were a reminder of why McCain is one of the more complex and interesting characters in the political landscape.
McCain rose from his hospital bed after having a blood clot removed from behind his eye to return to the Senate. Just days after receiving a brain tumor diagnosis, he decided to delay treatment, because work beckoned. He walked into the Senate chamber on Tuesday, stitches still visible above his eye, and delivered an impassioned speech, calling on Republicans and Democrats not to repeat the mistakes of the past by passing a rushed health-care bill.
The week before his return, when news broke of his cancer diagnosis, many on the left and right took to Twitter to show support for the senator. Former president Barack Obama expressed his support in a tweet, calling McCain an American hero.
Many on the left lamented McCain’s return, assuming that McCain would deliver the final vote needed to secure a win for the GOP. Protesters gathered on the steps of the Capitol last week, joined by Democratic senators such as Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer.
And in the end, McCain surprised both the left and the right. After several days of uncertainty, Twitter attacks and threats, the political process ended with McCain showing the independent streak he has prided himself on throughout his career, and backing up what he said in his speech Tuesday.
“Incremental progress, compromises that each side criticize but also accept, just plain muddling through to chip away at problems and keep our enemies from doing their worst, isn’t glamorous or exciting. It doesn’t feel like a political triumph. But it’s usually the most we can expect from our system of government, operating in a country as diverse and quarrelsome and free as ours. Considering the injustice and cruelties inflicted by autocratic governments and how corruptible human nature can be, the problem solving our system produced and the liberty and justice it preserves is a magnificent achievement.”