The Senate voted down the Republican proposal to repeal parts of Obamacare last week, and according to a new oral history from The Washington Post, it was as tense inside the chamber as it was for people watching the proceedings.
Based on the lawmakers’ comments, it’s clear that Sen. John McCain’s decision to join fellow Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and vote against the GOP proposal was a surprise.
GOP Sen. Tim Scott described the lead-up to the vote as a “roller coaster” and said after “energy and the pressure was building
Two previous drafts of healthcare legislation – one that would repeal and replace Obamacare and one that would simply repeal the law – had already failed when McConnell introduced the so-called skinny repeal. The final bill was expected to be the closest to getting the needed 50 votes from Republicans, since it only repealed some parts of Obamacare.
With speeches going past midnight on Thursday over the bill, Vice President Mike Pence showed up to the Senate. Collins told the Post she expected Pence to be the tiebreaker to pass the bill in the event of a 50-50 tie, but realized that was not the case.
“Originally I had thought Vice President Pence had come over to break the tie and allow the bill to proceed,” Collins said. “But it then became obvious that he was there to talk to Sen. McCain.”
Democratic senator and former vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine said while Republicans tried to win over McCain, you could see “the tension level in their faces was increasing.” Scott said there was a change in mood as it become clear McCain may kill the bill.
“All of a sudden I looked down from the roller coaster, and I started noticing that on my side, I could feel the shift in the room,” Scott told the Post. “We were happy when we left, we were energetic, but the faster we got to the top, we realized the steep fall wasn’t going to be what we thought it was going to be, not a thrilling ride, but instead a really scary drop.”
When the time came to cast their votes, Collins and Murkowski voted no as soon as they were called. McCain, on the other hand, approached the Senate clerk after the other two Republican defectors voted.
“The clerk was not looking at McCain, who was standing with his arm straight out,” Kaine said. “It was like the scene from ‘Gladiator’ with Russell Crowe: Do you survive, or not?”
McCain signaled his “no” vote with a thumbs down, and the healthcare bill was dead.