Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is grabbing headlines after he voted “no” on the Senate’s so-called “skinny repeal” bill to roll back Obamacare. McCain walked onto the Senate floor during the roll call and gave a thumbs down to the health care bill — prompting an audible gasp in the chamber.
Even though Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) arguably played a more pivotal role in the bill’s demise, most major outlets are now hailing McCain as a hero.
Part of the attention may stem from the dramatic personal circumstances surrounding McCain’s return to the Senate. The Arizona senator came back to vote on health care just 10 days after a surgery for a blood clot that led to a diagnosis of brain cancer.
Still, before he cast his “no” vote, McCain actually helped advance this legislation. He voted in support to open debate on a bill that he derided his colleagues for calling “better than nothing.” He also gave a dramatic speech earlier this week condemning the fact that the discussions over the bill mostly happened behind closed doors while also making the contradictory claim that Democrats were equally culpable for the dysfunction.
After the bill failed early Friday morning, most headlines and reporters were focused on McCain, describing him as single-handedly saving Obamacare.
McCain received adulation for making a decision at the last possible moment in the most dramatic fashion possible, while the votes of Sens. Murkowski and Collins — who pushed back against health care bill throughout the process in more consistent ways — were treated as less significant or brave.
Collins and Murkowski have long expressed doubts with the Senate’s Obamacare repeal process. Earlier this month, Collins told reporters she wouldn’t support moving forward with the bill unless she saw that proposed cuts to Medicaid would be less severe. Back in May, Murkowski said, “We recognize that there were some good things that came out of [Obamacare], some things that I want to figure out how we maintain.” In June, Murskowski said she would prefer a “more open process” to discuss the health care bill.
Sens. Collins and Murkowski were the only two Republicans to vote against the motion that opened debate on the bill earlier this week. One might characterize the decision to stand against your party when you only have the support of one other colleague as brave. That’s evidenced by the fact that both of the senators faced pressure — one might even call it bullying — from their male colleagues for their stances on health care.
Sen. Murkowski was directly called out by the president after she voted against the motion to open debate; President Trump said she let her country and party down. (Trump said this on the same day he thanked Sen. McCain for voting to open debate.) The White House also reportedly threatened to retaliate against her home state. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) mentioned the gender of the senators as he criticized their positions on the health care bill, suggesting he wanted to challenge them to an “Aaron Burr-style” duel. And Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) said the president’s criticism of Murkowski was fair and told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi that “somebody needs to go over there to that Senate and snatch a knot in their ass,” implying physical assault.
A Democratic senator’s own health care struggles were also ignored during the process of voting on the health care bill. The media focused on McCain’s surgery and brain cancer diagnosis as he voted to open debate, and emphasized the strength it took for him to come to the floor, but mostly ignored Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) — who was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer in May. Hirono also came back to work in the Senate this week only a month after going through her own surgery.
“I am fighting kidney cancer, and I’m just so grateful that I had health insurance so that I could concentrate on the care that I needed rather than how the heck I was going to afford the care that would probably save my life,” Sen. Hirono said on the floor of the Senate Thursday night.
As some media outlets focus on Sen. McCain, they also forget another group of people outside the Senate who influenced the vote — Americans who protested the bill for months, showed up at town halls, and called their members of Congress to demand they vote no on the bill.
This piece has been updated to include additional tweets about McCain.