McCain goes maverick-y

In the end, John McCain, whose career has been marked by periods of both swashbuckling independence and fall-in-line toeing-the-Republican party line, chose the former for what may go down as his most memorable and final big moment in the US Senate.

In the wee hours of the morning, the Arizona Republican cast the decisive vote to kill his party’s hapless efforts to push something — anything — over the finish line and declare victory in their seven-year vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

McCain, who returned to Washington for the health care showdown this week after learning he has an aggressive form of brain cancer, had people on both sides of the debate alternately praising and slamming him.

President Trump was full of praise earlier this week for McCain, whom he previously branded a loser because of McCain’s five-and-a-half years in a North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp. “So great that John McCain is coming back to vote. Brave – American hero! Thank you John,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

When McCain voted yes earlier this week on the pivotal motion — which passed by a single vote —  to allow the health care debate to proceed, liberals were unsparing in their denunciations.They charged that there was nothing heroic about McCain, while receiving top-notch medical care for a deadly illness, jetting across the country to help strip coverage from millions of other Americans.

But when he cast the decisive vote at 1:30 Friday morning to kill the Republicans’ last-gasp effort — the so-called “skinny repeal” — McCain quickly became the guy who saved Obamacare. This Washington Post account captures the rare moment of true drama that unfolded on the Senate floor — and it makes clear how much McCain enjoyed being at the center of it.

Many were quick to point out that McCain’s made-for-movies moment was only possible because two women Republican colleagues, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, had been unwavering in their opposition to all of the Republican plans being put forth. Their steadfast stand in the face of White House pressure made it possible to kill the repeal effort if just one fellow Republican joined them.

Their opposition was in many ways rooted in the last remaining wisps of moderate Republicanism — they objected to the loss of health coverage for millions of Americans that the GOP plans would cause. McCain’s vote was as much about his objection to the process as the product of the repeal efforts. He found the Republican efforts to ram through sweeping bills being drawn up only hours before the roll call votes unseemly and reckless.

When he spoke on the Senate floor on Tuesday, McCain ripped an institution once heralded as the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

“I’m not sure we can claim that distinction with a straight face today,” he said with considerable understatement. He said the Senate’s “arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all. The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries.”

The early read on today’s vote is that it will force just such bipartisan cooperation on revisions to the health care law.

McCain also had harsh words for the vitriol of the airwaves that has seeped into congressional dealings. “Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet,” he implored his colleagues in his Tuesday speech. “To hell with them. They don’t want anything done for the public good.”

It’s hard to not think he was including in that class of internet bottom-feeders the leading purveyor of Twitter bile. McCain made clear yesterday his views on the president’s preference for policy pronouncements via 140-character Twitter bursts when he slammed Trump for both the substance and half-baked method of delivering his new policy against transgender military service personnel.

“Let’s trust each other,” McCain said in his Tuesday floor speech. “Let’s return to regular order.”

Whatever the ultimate outcome, McCain’s vision for how to deal with the complexities of national health care reform emerged as a winner.



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