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US senator McCain brings down Republican healthcare replacement bill

The bill’s failure was a humiliating defeat for the Republican party, its Senate leadership and Trump, all of whom have campaigned against former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

world Updated: Jul 28, 2017 21:03 IST
Yashwant Raj
US senator John McCain leaves the Senate Chamber after voting against a stripped-down version of Obamacare on July 28, 2017.
US senator John McCain leaves the Senate Chamber after voting against a stripped-down version of Obamacare on July 28, 2017.(AFP)

On Friday morning, as the US Senate Republicans looked on grim-faced, senator John McCain walked over to a clerk keeping a count of votes, and signalled a “No” with his thumb held down, bringing down a legislation moved by his party and backed by President Donald Trump to partly overhaul the current healthcare law.

The bill’s failure was a humiliating defeat for the Republican party, its Senate leadership and Trump, all of whom have campaigned against former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law —Obamacare — and called for its withdrawal since its enactment seven years ago.

The bill fell 49-51, with all Democrats and three Republicans voting against it. McCain’s was the decisive vote, with Republicans already on the brink after two of their senators had let it be known they were a “No” on a scaled-down “skinny repeal” legislation that would have withdrawn a few of the most unpopular provisions of the Act, but would have left the rest intact.

The other two Republican senators who opposed it were Susan Collins from Maine and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.

McCain’s vote was the one that kept everyone in suspense and he had held his decision close to his chest till the final minutes — telling reporters to “wait for the show”. And it was one indeed, when he signalled “No” to the vote clerk, greeted by gasps and applause from the chamber.

Vice president Mike Pence, who was at hand in the Senate to cast a tie-breaking vote if it came to that, could be seen trying to talk McCain out of it, as did other party leaders ahead of the early morning vote, but the senator from Arizona, who was diagnosed with brain tumour last week, would not be persuaded.

Though McCain believed Obamacare should be repealed and replaced, he said that though the “so-called ‘skinny repeal’ … amendment would have repealed some of Obamacare’s most burdensome regulations, it offered no replacement to actually reform our health care system and deliver affordable, quality health care to our citizens”.

The “skinny repeal” amendment — withdrawing only the most unpopular provisions mandating individuals and employers to buy health insurance and tax medical devices — was a last-ditch effort by the Republican leadership hobbled by defections.

The plans was to pass some kind of legislation to advance to the next stage in the legislative process, to reconcile it with a bill passed by House of Representatives in May, and come up with one combined version acceptable to both chambers.

With the future of the Republican effort uncertain after the Thursday vote, Trump renewed his call for letting the current law collapse under the weight of its inadequacies and failings.

He tweeted shortly after the vote: “3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!”