With a vote to proceed on repealing Obamacare less than 24 hours away—and with most senators completely in the dark on what they’ll be voting on and whether they even have enough support to start the debate—GOP leadership is floating the idea that they can ship a bedridden Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) across the country to cast the deciding vote.
McCain recently found out that he has an extremely aggressive form of brain cancer and took an indefinite leave of absence from the Senate. Still, GOP Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) insisted to reporters on Monday that there is a chance McCain could be flown to DC tomorrow. “We have not yet gotten word, but we’re hopeful,” he said. “Knowing him, I know he wants to come back as soon as he can physically make it.”
Asked if there is even time to get a doctor to sign off on the journey and make the arrangements for the trip, Cornyn snapped: “I’m not a doctor. I quit after organic chemistry.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) went into more graphic detail about McCain’s condition, saying that his travel plans hinge on “whether his incision has healed to the extent that he can sit in a pressurized cabin for four hours.”
“He might get the go-ahead from his doctors this afternoon,” Wicker added. “We don’t know just yet.”
Though McCain has reportedly been in frequent contact with his close friends in the Senate, namely Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), it is unclear if Senate leaders have spoken to him about whether he wants to risk a trip back to DC to vote to proceed on an unknown health care bill he quite recently criticized for threatening his state’s Medicaid recipients.
“I called him yesterday but got his voice message,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) said with a chuckle Monday evening.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD), another member of the GOP leadership team, threw cold water on the idea. “I would love it if he would be here, but I don’t expect that,” he wearily told reporters.
McCain’s office did not respond to TPM’s question of whether McCain is able to and willing to travel to DC for Tuesday’s vote.
With support crumbling for all of the Republican health care plans currently on the table and senators wary of voting to proceed without knowing what they will proceed to, GOP leaders offered mixed responses to whether their success or failure hinges on flying an octogenarian cancer patient across the country.
“We sure need him,” Wicker said.
Cornyn disagreed and said McCain’s unlikely appearance would not make or break the vote. “I think we can get to the motion to proceed without him, but it certainly would help if he’s here,” he said.
Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.