With a last-ditch gimmick to get a “quick win” on repealing and replacing Obamacare before the summer recess in the balance, Sen. John McCain stood before his Senate colleagues last week to deliver a classic speech on bipartisanship and parliamentary procedure. While casually mentioning his own existential health struggles with the bland understatement, “I look a little worse for the wear,” McCain demonstrated fortitude and valor that is rarely if ever seen in Washington anymore.
The effort to repeal and replace Obamacare is an exceedingly low bar for the White House and Senate Republicans to clear. After already fundamentally shifting the rules to achieve the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court earlier this year, requiring a mere 51 vote majority to confirm instead of 60 votes, the Senate still could not reach a consensus.
Senator McCain’s valiant stand was aided in part by the blow-back the president received from his attempt to publicly disgrace his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, last week. Sessions’ agreement to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because of possible conflicts of interest received little opposition from the president at the time, because he apparently believed that firing General Mike Flynn and distancing the AG would be enough to put to bed controversy over possibly improper relations with the Russian government leading up the election in November.
But it is not as if McCain and Trump do not have a history. Trump famously insulted McCain early in his campaign, rejecting his war hero status because he was captured. It seems now that the captive has turned the table on the captor. By ceremoniously and conspicuously obstructing the president’s rushed agenda on health care, McCain gave what many believe to be a justifiable comeuppance.
But he did far more than that. He reminded our nation that in this time of extreme partisanship and rancor, we are failing to live up to our most cherished ideals. McCain is not a person whose position on Obamacare is unknown. He has been a vociferous critic of the legislation’s failures, including the parliamentary sleights of hand Democrats used to force the passage of the legislation (primarily mischaracterizing the individual mandate as a “penalty” and not a “tax”). He also railed against the sudden balloon in premiums for enrollees that was the result of faulty enrollment assumptions by the bill’s architects.
McCain is no fan of Obamacare. But he is a fan of our democracy. His 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate, and before that his valiant service as a naval aviator and war hero, give him a platform on which to critique the process by which the attempted overhaul was made. The bottom line is that the Congress and the president tried to repeal Obamacare on the cheap. It is all too apparent now. The states, including GOP-led states, that had come to rely on the Medicaid expansion, would have been put in a lurch. GOP governors in those states would have paid a high price if the expansion was removed without an adequate replacement. And the upside—an early win for the president in his first year—would not have compensated for the political fallout that would have beset the party.