“I thought it was the right vote. I do my job as a senator.”
That was the simple explanation that U.S. Sen. John McCain gave for casting what turned out to be the deciding vote in the GOP’s long-standing political effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.
McCain was joined by two other Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Susan Collins from Maine, both of whom have been steadfast and rock-solid in their desire to fix what everyone knows is wrong with Obamacare but not destroy for millions of Americans everything that is right about it. Their opposition to this seven-year, purely political circus (couched simply under the heading of “keeping our promise” — a promise as it turns out only a handful of Americans actually wanted kept) was constant and unrelenting — especially in the face of threats, political and personal.
But for McCain, opposition seems to have come from a different place. We can speculate about the reasons why Sen. McCain gave a thumbs down to President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to end the “nightmare” called Obamacare. By the way, the irony should not be lost on anyone that there were plenty of Republicans in the White House, in the Congress and in the hinterlands of America having nightmares of their own early Friday.
McCain is a patriot. Practically his entire adult life has been given to public service. Whether as a member of the armed services of the United States or as a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Senate, our neighbor from Arizona has epitomized the selflessness of public service. And given his love for the traditions of the Senate and its place in the genius of our Founding Fathers who created it as part of the legislative branch, it is small wonder that he would recoil from the way the Senate has allowed leadership to abuse it and the collegiality for which it was once known and respected throughout the world.
McCain warned as much last week when he flew from Arizona to Washington to vote for debate to move forward on a health care bill. He said “regular order” and civility should be the way to move forward on something this complicated and this important to the American people. The GOP leadership and President Trump did not listen to him.
I also believe that McCain’s recent difficult diagnosis of a brain tumor probably had a humanizing effect on him (and should have had on his colleagues) as it relates to other “ordinary” Americans in similar difficulty who might not have the medical insurance and care to which he will be able to avail himself. McCain has a very decent streak about him, so to vote an indecency for others probably wasn’t in him.
And, finally, there may have been just the slightest hint of payback for President Trump who, as candidate Trump, derided McCain and his military service in a way that no sane person would ever contemplate.
So the bravery of Sens. Murkowski, Collins and McCain may have saved millions of Americans from losing their health insurance. It may also cause some semblance of a working relationship between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate toward the end that health care will be fixed, available and effective for all Americans.
This was a legacy moment for those senators and may very well have saved the Senate and the GOP from political ruination. It is also a perfect opportunity for Sen. Chuck Schumer to bring the Democrats to the party to fix what is broken.
The question that remains for me and other Nevadans is what happened to Sen. Dean Heller?
I would have expected Heller to listen to Gov. Brian Sandoval, who was quite vocal in his opposition. Or the hundreds of thousands of Nevadans who would have been placed in jeopardy had that “skinny” repeal been passed Friday morning. Or the tens of thousands of Nevada women who expected Heller to live up to his promise to protect Planned Parenthood. Or anyone else listening to our senior senator promise not to do what he just did.
But expectations in politics often go unmet. And in this case, Heller had a perfect opportunity to keep those promises he made because it became clear once McCain voted “no” that the repeal would not happen and that he could join the right side of history.
Instead, Heller voted “yes.”
He allowed petty politics to trump proper policy. He feared for his job rather than fight for the Nevadans he represents. He did not choose bravery, as did his three GOP colleagues.
He chose the opposite.
Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.