Returning to the Senate floor after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) struck a harshly dissonant chord on Tuesday, delivering a charged speech calling for bipartisan cooperation after casting his vote to continue debate on the repeal of Obamacare.
The Senate’s Obamacare repeal effort has been shrouded in bitter secrecy and has not received any support from Senate Democrats.
McCain spoke from the Senate floor minutes after supporting the “motion to proceed,” a procedural measure to begin debate on repealing Obamacare. The motion passed with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote.
If McCain had not made the trip to Washington, D.C. two weeks after a surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye — and after the discovery of an aggressive form of brain cancer — the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and make deep cuts to Medicaid would very likely not have proceeded.
Senate deliberations, McCain said, can be “sincere and principled.” But lately, he said, “they are more partisan, more tribal, more of the time than at any time that I can remember.”
“Let’s return to regular order,” he said, though the motion he had just voted to support was described by several congressional reporters as the most unusual, and the most shrouded in secrecy, they had seen in a health care bill in their careers.
Strikingly, McCain criticized the legislative approach pursued by Senate Republican leadership and the Trump administration — and that he had voted to support — of seeking votes from just one party.
“We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle,” he said.
McCain said he could not support the Obamacare repeal effort “as it is today,” though it’s not clear what version he, or Republican leadership, has prioritized, nor which is most likely to pass the Senate if any.
He said of the process by which Republican leaders had pursued the repeal effort — “asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition” — “I don’t think that’s going to work in the end, and probably shouldn’t.”
“Let’s see if we can pass something that will be imperfect, full of compromises and not very pleasing to implacable partisans on either side but that might provide workable solutions for problems that Americans are struggling with today,” he said toward the end of his remarks. “What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions? We’re not getting done much apart. I don’t think any of us feels very proud of our incapacity.”