John McCain Is Returning to the Senate, Probably to Help Destroy Obamacare

Maverick McCain? Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on the American Health Care Act, which is the first step in their last-ditch effort to do … something to Obamacare this week. In a matter of days, Senate Republicans may pass a bill that affects one fifth of the economy and millions of Americans’ lives, and incredibly, they have no idea what it might look like.

Republicans can only afford to lose two votes, so it looked like Senator John McCain’s absence following surgery and a diagnosis of brain cancer meant the motion to proceed was doomed. Then on Monday night, this happened:

McCain’s hasty return signals that the Republican leadership thinks they’re close to the 50 votes needed. He may wind up being the senator who revived Zombie Trumpcare one last time.

The Arizona senator has not officially committed to voting for the motion to proceed, but he said this last month:

Senator Susan Collins is believed to be a “no” on the motion to proceed, so if McCain votes to start debate, Republicans can only afford to lose one of the following undecided votes:

If the motion to proceed passes, it’s impossible to say what happens next. There will be a “vote-a-rama” allowing many amendments on the health-care bill (which is technically a budget bill), and there may be a vote on a straight repeal of Obamacare with no replacement. The Congressional Budget Office will not have time to score whatever legislation emerges from that process, so senators will have to vote without knowing the bill’s potential impact.

McCain was critical of the previous version of the Senate health-care bill, and after its apparent death a week ago, he released a statement calling on Congress to “return to regular order” and search for a bipartisan solution:

One of the major problems with Obamacare was that it was written on a strict party-line basis and driven through Congress without a single Republican vote. As this law continues to crumble in Arizona and states across the country, we must not repeat the original mistakes that led to Obamacare’s failure. The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care.

That sounds like common sense, but since the idea of working with Democrats is anathema to many Republicans, McCain’s statement seemed to affirm that the push for a GOP health-care bill was dead. However, it’s important to recall that throughout the push to repeal and replace Obamacare, there was little doubt that McCain would ultimately vote how Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted him to, despite his grumbling.

If this were a movie, Tuesday would be the moment when McCains reclaims his reputation as a legendary “maverick.” After a passionate speech on the Senate floor about what his own tragic illness taught him about the importance of reliable health care, he would look McConnell straight in the eye and vote “no” on the motion to proceed.

Those who don’t want to see millions lose their health coverage for purely political purposes can dream, but recent events suggest that’s not the movie we’re living in.

McCain Returns to D.C., Probably to Help Destroy Obamacare