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How John McCain Saved Senate Republicans From Themselves

All the latest on John McCain's 'no' vote on the 'Skinny Repeal' bill and what happens next in the Senate
Image: Senators McCain, Graham, Cassidy and Johnson Discuss Health Care Reform
Sen. John McCain looks on during a news conference to announce opposition to the so-called skinny repeal of Obamacare at the Capitol on July 27.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

How John McCain saved Senate Republicans from themselves

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warned his colleagues that he would vote against the Senate health care legislation if it didn’t improve.

“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,” he said on Tuesday after voting to proceed on the legislation. “I don’t think that is going to work in the end.”

And it didn’t.

After 1:00 am ET last night, McCain cast the deciding vote against the so-called “Skinny Repeal” legislation, joining two other GOP colleagues (Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski) and all Democrats to defeat the measure. And in the process, McCain saved the U.S. Senate and the Republican Party from themselves.

  • Was Skinny Repeal good policy? Just ask Republicans, including those who ultimately voted for it. “The skinny bill as policy is a disaster,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “The skinny bill as a replacement for Obamacare is a fraud.”
  • Was it good process? Last night’s vote took place after midnight. It happened only about two hours after the Congressional Budget Office released its comprehensive score of Skinny Repeal. And there were no hearings and committee work on the measure.
  • Was it going to become law? Remember, Senate Republicans were supporting Skinny Repeal just to keep the process alive, and many were begging the House NOT to pass it, so they could work on something else in conference committee. But House Speaker Paul Ryan couldn’t guarantee that the House wouldn’t ultimately pass Skinny Repeal.
  • Was it good politics? Had Skinny Repeal (or something close to it) become law, it would increase premiums and the number of uninsured Americans, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And Republicans would have to own those changes — on top of the poor poll numbers for the GOP health-care effort.
  • And did it really repeal Obamacare? No. All it did was knock out one leg from the Affordable Care Act table (by repealing the individual and employer mandates), but much of the rest of it still remained.

In the end, there are probably a good dozen Republican senators who are relieved this morning that McCain took one for the team. After all, McCain had the stature and personal story (his recent cancer diagnosis) to cast a “no” vote when others couldn’t. And don’t forget: McCain is standing on higher ground today due to his previous vote to proceed on debate. He gave the legislation a chance to improve, but it didn’t.

How NOT to win friends and influence people

By the way, who were the three Republican “no” votes last night? They were:

  • And John McCain, who had this said about him almost two years ago to this very day: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” candidate Donald Trump said in 2015.

These kinds of things matter, especially in the U.S. Senate.

A low moment for McConnell

As for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, last night’s defeat is probably as low a moment as we can remember for him. Don’t be surprised if the health care process — no hearings, no subcommittee work, no regular order — cost him capital with his fellow Republican senators, who might demand more input in running the Senate GOP ship.

Is it finally time for bipartisan work on health care?

So what happens next?

Here’s what McCain said in his speech Tuesday: “Why don’t we try the old way of legislating in the Senate, the way our rules and customs encourage us to act. If this process ends in failure, which seem likely, then let’s return to regular order. Let the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee under Chairman [Lamar] Alexander and Ranking Member [Patty] Murray hold hearings, try to report a bill out of committee with contributions from both sides.

“Then bring it to the floor for amendment and debate, and 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 to problems Americans are struggling with today. What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions?”

Trump needs to resolve the dysfunction and disunity in the West Wing

Not only did White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci go after White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus — in very vulgar language — he did the same regarding Steve Bannon. And so President Trump needs to make a decision: Who does he want working in West Wing? Who doesn’t he want? Or does he simply want chaos?

The New York Times: “President Trump not only tolerates feuds within his team, he fuels them, playing one courtier off another and leaving them all unsteady. He chooses favorites and casts others aside, but even those decisions seem subject to change at any moody moment. And by several accounts, he personally encouraged Mr. Scaramucci’s jihad against Mr. Priebus, once again subjecting his chief of staff to a ritualistic public lashing even as he considered pushing him out.”

By the way, what does the party of family values think of Scaramucci’s tirade? Tweeted Erick Erickson: “Here’s the list of the President’s evangelical leaders team members who’ve expressed concern about Mooch’s language/behavior:” The kicker to Erickson’s tweet: There was no list.