Despite seven years of nasty threats and dozens of previous votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republican senators in a dramatic vote early Friday morning ultimately failed to deliver on their party’s fevered dream.

With a Republican president semi-sitting in the White House, a full-fledged Republican bill to repeal and replace the ACA would have been assured passage but after months of wrangling Senate Republicans could only muster a pared-down “skinny repeal,” which rolled back only a few of elements of the ACA, most notably the individual mandate.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and John McCain (AZ), citing grave concerns about the policy and process behind the bill, voted against the last-minute partial repeal — the language of which was cobbled together in secret only several hours before the vote, over lunch. The bill was rejected in a 51-49 vote.

Sens. Collins, Murkowski and McCain have also, inadvertently perhaps, given cover to members of their party who felt compelled to vote yes but who would have almost certainly paid a price for passing such a disastrous bill in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

Despite intense pressure from the GOP leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) Vice President Mike Pence and, of course, President Donald Trump himself, Sen. McCain remained true to his word and cast the decisive no vote. When asked why he voted no, McCain said: “Because I thought it was the right thing to do.”

About 20 minutes before the vote, according to the Washington Post, McCain crossed to the other side of the aisle to join Sens. Chuck Schumer, Klobuchar and other Democrats, including Sens. Richard J. Durbin (IL), Dianne Feinstein (CA) and Elizabeth Warren (MA), joking that he thought reporters in the gallery above might be trying to read his lips. Then he looked up and shouted, “No!” Everybody erupted in laughter, and Sen. Feinstein gave him a hug.

Earlier in the week, McCain gave an impassioned speech to Senate colleagues about the need to return to regular order and bipartisan governing. Should Republicans really care to pass any meaningful health care reform in the future, they will now have work with Democrats through the normal legislative process.

Only minutes before the fateful vote, McCain was still stuck in a backroom with the vice president. When he finally emerged, at 1:29 a.m., he walked towards the Senate clerk and gave a thumbs down, the decisive Republican no vote that kept the GOP’s so-called Health Care Freedom Act from advancing.

One of the Senate’s elder statesmen, McCain certainly knows how to make an entrance but it was the principled and consistent no votes from Sens. Collins and Murkowski on behalf of their constituents during a frenzied week of several Senate repeal votes that made McCain’s dramatic moment possible and ultimately saved the ACA. At least for now, anyway.

Looking ahead to happier days, President Trump had only this to say:

And then thought better of it:

Campaigning is easy, old man, governing’s harder.

 

– Danielle Bizzarro

 

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