WASHINGTON — In a major defeat for GOP leadership, the Senate rejected the latest effort to repeal Obamacare with a 51-49 vote.
The dramatic late-night showdown over the controversial bill came down to the decision by Arizona Sen. John McCain (pictured) to vote against the measure. McCain joined two other Republican senators – Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – who refused to support the bill. No Democrats voted in favor of repeal.
President Donald Trump didn’t hide his disappointment, accusing the bill’s opponents of having “let the American people down” in a tweet sent about an hour after the 1:30 a.m. vote.
“This is clearly a disappointing moment,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor shortly after the repeal effort failed.
He blamed the repeals failure on the Democrats, despite the three Republican defections. “I regret to say that they succeeded in that effort.”
The swirl of events around the bill reflected the desperation of Republican leaders to make progress in their long-stated quest to repeal Obamacare. After a series of setbacks, the Senate on Thursday began considering a slimmed-down repeal of Obamacare, even though a number of senators who plan to vote for it actually expressed their hope that it doesn’t actually become law.
“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of the aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable healthcare for the American people,” McCain said in a statement after his vote.
There was a gasp in the Senate chamber, followed by a smattering of applause, after he signaled his vote with a thumbs down and a “No!”
It’s not immediately clear if the skinny-repeal defeat marks the end of GOP efforts to turn the page on Obamacare. It was viewed as the last best option to keep the repeal effort alive.
“We are not celebrating. We are relieved,” said Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate minority leader.
The bill would have repealed the individual and employer mandate, and de-fund Planned Parenthood for a year. It also rolled back a medical device tax, and expands contribution limits for health savings accounts. It also appeared to allow states to waive provisions that require insurers cover those with pre-existing conditions.
The idea was that the legislation will be reworked in a conference with the House. But given the divisions among congressional Republicans, it was unclear just what kind of compromise legislation they could end up with, if any at all.
“The Health Care Freedom Act eliminates the core pillars of Obamacare,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in introducing the legislation late on Thursday.
The legislation was crafted as a way to come up with something that could garner passage, after the Senate rejected efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare and another proposal to repeal without a replacement.
It fell far short of GOP ambitions to repeal-and-replace the seven-year old Affordable Care Act, critics say that it would have a devastating effect on the insurance marketplace.
Insurance lobbyists opposed the move, joining an array of groups including AARP and the American Medical Association. The Congressional Budget Office said that it would increase the number of uninsured by 15 million next year.
In fact, just hours before the vote, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the legislation a “fraud” and called the process a “half assed approach.” He said that he wanted assurances from House Speaker Paul Ryan that the legislation would be worked out in a conference committee. Later in the evening, after talking to Ryan, he told reporters that he was assured.
Democrats, none of whom voted for the legislation, attacked Republicans for the process for trying to secure passage.
“Even if there is a conference, how on earth is a conference going to come to a conclusion that the Senate could not?” asked Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
The text of the legislation was released just a couple of hours before the vote. The Senate held no committee hearings on the legislation, and largely devised their plans behind closed doors.
Outside the Capitol, hundreds of protesters appeared at a rally to protest the vote. Among those who spoke was Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood.