'To Hell With Them' — McCain Calls For Unity And Order In Place Of Partisanship

Amidst a controversial health care vote, Sen. John McCain returned to the Senate.

UPDATE: On Tuesday night, the Senate rejected one proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare. Other proposals and reforms continue to be debated.

During an impassioned speech, Arizona Sen. John McCain implored his Senate colleagues to work together during his first public appearance since announcing last week he had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

McCain returned to vote on Tuesday for a motion to proceed to debate the repeal of Obamacare, and was then given the Senate floor for a 15-minute speech. He used the time to criticize an unusually partisan Senate and pressured his Democrat and Republican colleagues to once again start reaching across the aisle.

"The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromisein order to make incremental progress on solving America's problems and to defend her from her adversaries," McCain said. "Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them. They don't want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood."

When Sen. McCain first entered the chamber, he was met with a thunderous round of applause. Democrats and Republicans alike approached him for hugs and handshakes. The Republican Senate needed two more votes to move forward on the repeal of Obamacare, and McCain's dramatic entrance was immediately followed by he and Sen. Ron Johnson's "yes" votes, which gave Republicans enough to force an unusual tiebreaker vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

And yet, as McCain delivered his speech, he made it clear that a repeal of Obamacare was anything but a done deal.

"We've tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it's better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition," McCain said. "I don't think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn't."

Sen. McCain's speech was cheered by many political pundits on Twitter, but it also drew some criticism. While simultaneously voting to move forward on a mystery bill that has undergone no hearings and not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, McCain urged his colleagues to return to regular order. Both liberal and conservative pundits pointed out that a simple "no" vote would have been a great way to accomplish the goal he had laid out.

"What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions?" McCain asked his colleagues. "We're not getting much done apart. I don't think any of us feels very proud of our incapacity. Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn't the most inspiring work."

With the motion to proceed passed, many are expecting the GOP to push forward what they are calling a "skinny" repeal of Obamacare. That outcome would not please hard-right conservatives, who want to see a full repeal of the law and not the more minor cuts of certain Obamacare regulations. Still, the move forward could have a huge impact on a health care industry that accounts for nearly one-fifth of United States economy. 

First, the Senate is expected to vote a 2015 version of an Obamacare repeal, which senators and aides have told the press they expect to fail. Then they will turn to the Better Care Reconciliation Act, also known as Trumpcare, with an amendment attached from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz aimed at allowing states to offer plans that don't meet Obamacare regulations. Also included will be an amendment from Sen. Rob Portman that allocates $100 billion in Medicaid spending, a move the GOP hopes will coax in more moderate senators concerned about deep cuts to the program. 

McCain on a hike with his daughter post-surgery.

Still, a vote for the amended BRCA is expected to need 60 votes to pass since it has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office and can't pass with a simple majority under the current reconciliation rules. Considering a similar bill couldn't get 50 votes just a week ago, nobody is expecting this bill to pass either.

After those votes, the Senate is expected to move onto the aforementioned "skinny" repeal. They could vote on amendments to include in that version of a repeal, which seems to be their best shot at beginning to undo the Affordable Care Act. Then the Senate would have to work alongside the House of Representatives to come up with a final bill.

In other words: there is a long way to go.

Sen. McCain, in his final remarks, seemed to acknowledge this reality. But he urged the Senate to do its best to work across the aisle and assured his fellow senators that he knew they were capable of doing that because he had seen it.

"The success of the Senate is important to the continued success of America,"McCain said. "This country – this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, restless, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, good and magnificent country – needs us to help it thrive. That responsibility is more important than any of our personal interests or political affiliations."

Cover image via Shutterstock / Christopher Halloran

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