McCain, once belittled by Trump, hands
him big defeat in healthcare vote
Send a link to a friend
[July 29, 2017]
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In the end, it was a
simple hand gesture - Senator John McCain pointing his right index
finger in a downward motion to register a no vote - that ruined his
party's seven-year effort to repeal Obamacare.
But in that signal in the early hours of Friday, the 80-year-old McCain
also delivered a political gut-punch to U.S. President Donald Trump, a
fellow Republican and a man he has clashed with repeatedly over the past
McCain, who just last week was diagnosed with an aggressive brain
cancer, dropped a hint on Tuesday that if his legislative demands were
not met he was prepared to take on Trump in the dispute over how to
replace parts of Obamacare with a Republican healthcare program.
“We are not the president’s subordinates. We are his equals," he said in
an emotional speech to the Senate - his first since being diagnosed.
McCain's relations with Trump have been frosty for some time. At an
election campaign appearance in Iowa in 2015, Trump responded to
criticism from McCain by denigrating the senator's military service,
which included 5 1/2-years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He was
tortured while in captivity and is seen as a war hero by many Americans.
"He's not a war hero," Trump told a gathering of religious
conservatives. "He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people
who weren't captured."
The following day, Trump said McCain's work on behalf of military
veterans was "all talk no action."
McCain, a leading Republican voice on defense and security, has
generally been restrained in his criticism of Trump but has also at
times let loose, including recent accusations that Trump has weakened
America's standing in world affairs and kowtowed to Russian President
With his Friday vote that brought the tally to 51-49 against a
Republican bill repealing parts of former President Barack Obama's
Affordable Care Act, McCain became the third Senate Republican to bolt,
leaving no path for passage of the measure.
The Arizona Republican, who was the Republican presidential candidate in
2008, also added another important chapter to his maverick, 30-year
Senate career, stunning some of his fellow legislators and leaving
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with the worst defeat of his long
But most notably, McCain denied Trump what could have been the first
major legislative victory of his administration, and demonstrated to the
businessman-turned-president that Washington works in different ways
from companies where CEOs have freer hands in dictating outcomes.
Although Trump was minimally involved in the process of crafting the
legislation, he had made plain it was a priority. When the Senate failed
to push through bills drawn up by the Republican leadership over the
past few weeks, Trump told Republicans to get back to work and try
again. He has been publicly urging them to get the job done.
[to top of second column]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) looks on during a press conference about
his resistance to the so-called "Skinny Repeal" of the Affordable
Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 27, 2017.
REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
PENCE OFFENSIVE FAILS
Despite McCain's tensions with the White House, Vice President Mike
Pence was assigned the task of trying to convince him to vote for
the so-called skinny bill that aimed to pare away parts of
Obamacare. That, after it became apparent that Trump's cheerleading
tweet on Thursday night was not working: "Go Republican Senators,
Go! Get there after waiting for 7 years. Give America great
Pence spent 21 minutes, according to reporters watching inside the
Senate chamber, talking to McCain on the Senate floor.
McCain was not budging, even after taking a short phone call from
After the Senate vote tally was announced in the Senate, McCain was
embraced by senators from both sides of the aisle.
Democrats were delighted he had helped kill the Obamacare repeal
effort and some Republicans just wanted to show their respect for
McConnell spoke bitterly of the defeat. "I imagine many of our
colleagues on the other side are celebrating, probably pretty happy
about all of this."
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer again called for bipartisan
work to fix Obamacare's shortcomings, saying, "I would suggest we
turn the page... We are not celebrating. We are relieved."
Just three days ago, Trump praised McCain as a brave "American hero"
for coming back to Washington from Arizona, where he had been
recuperating from surgery, to take part in the healthcare
Now the president was dejected.
"3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I
said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!,"
Trump tweeted following his defeat.
On Friday, McCain advised a much different approach: an immediate,
collaborative effort with Democrats on healthcare.
For McCain, who also hoped to shepherd a major defense bill through
the Senate, his political and legislative tussles could now be
interrupted by the more pressing need to treat his cancer.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Kieran Murray and Frances
[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2017 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.