It was a moment of drama that surpassed any fiction from George R.R. Martin. Everyone anticipated that John McCain would be the vote to provide salvation for Republicans on the Health Care Bill. What must have been swirling in that mind as he approached the microphone to provide the last vote in the early morning hour? He seemed so calm… so dispassionate, but his heart must have been beating out of his chest and it had to take heroic effort to not laugh out loud. Mitch McConnell and Trump begged him to fly back to D.C. to provide his vote to allow debate and votes on the mystery box health care bill. He was welcomed back as a returning hero when he entered the Senate chamber and voted to allow debate. It looked like he had totally sold out his principles when he voted to support one version of the bill that he said he could never support, but John has a gift for drama.
He lectured the Senate, pleading for normal order and bipartisan cooperation. He berated his fellow Republicans on the shameful process they used to exclude Democrats, and the lunacy of voting on a sham Bill that could only be passed if the House agreed to never pass it into law. He confused his supporters when he voted on the first iteration of the Bill, but he cast his vote only after it was clear it would not pass. He set it all up perfectly.
When McCain cast his vote to kill Trumpcare, he did far more than kill a bill. He detonated a thermonuclear political bomb. His vote was the Red Wedding of Republican leadership. It was a statement that he could not trust Paul Ryan. Republican Senators, desperate for some political cover for voting for a Bill that would be a disaster for their constituents, or not vote for the Bill and admit that the last seven years of promises were nothing more than a lie to get votes. They wanted to have Paul Ryan promise that if they passed the abomination, he would refer it to Committee so the Bill would never see the light of day. House Leader Ryan said he would consider tabling the Bill if passed by the Republican Senators. McCain said that was not enough of a commitment. The vote was an acknowledgement that Ryan could not be trusted.
Mitch McConnell, considered a tactical genius of obstruction, had his first opportunity to show he could do something other than say “no”. Mitch hand-selected a bunch of old white guys to meet in secret to come up with a Bill, but it was the wrong old white guys. McCain was excluded, even with his senior leadership positions in the Senate, because Trump hated him (not in small part because McCain has been the chief Republican voice on the Russian collusion issue). Mitch now looks foolish and weak, and already the humiliation of the failure of their centerpiece promise to voters has caused other Senators to question his leadership role. Now, who expects Mitch to be successful with tax reform? As much as McCain’s vote was a statement of Ryan’s dishonesty, the vote politically emasculated McConnell.
However, as sweet as it was to exact retribution on Ryan and McConnell, nothing – absolutely nothing – must have been sweeter than what the vote did to Trump. The draft dodger who questioned McCain’s heroism as a POW, was cast down from the heavens by the man he mocked, humiliated and dismissed so publicly. McCain and I may be on opposite sides of ideology, but I have always respected his heroism during the war and his willingness to serve the country afterwards. Now he has assumed mythological status in the Pantheon of political paybacks. He did what was right for his constituents, but never has doing the right thing been as sweet as that moment. Good for us and good for him.