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The Return of Maverick McCain Saves Obamacare

John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski did exactly what the Founders thought United States senators should do. Mitch McConnell and 48 other Republicans, not so much.

Michael Tomasky7.28.17 6:29 AM ET

Wow. John McCain came through.

Thursday evening, as the workday ended, some colleagues and I checked in on the press conference McCain was having with Lindsey Graham, Ron Johnson, and Bill Cassidy. They were saying basically that they’d vote yes on “skinny” repeal as long as they could be sure it failed. “I am not going to vote for the ‘skinny’ bill if I’m not assured by the House there will be a conference,” Graham said. We couldn’t bear to watch much, turned it off, and went for a drink.

John, John, John, we muttered; millions of liberals and moderates across the country were surely muttering. What are you doing?

Yes, he was a war hero, no one denies that. Well, someone does, actually, and you know who I mean. But liberals don’t. And he used to be a great senator. But all that was very, very long ago. Since 2008, when he caved in to the advisers who pushed Sarah Palin on him as his vice-presidential pick, he’s been a different guy.

And when he voted for the motion to proceed Tuesday, liberals thought: Really? You got up off of your cancer bed, where you’re getting Cadillac health-care paid for by us the taxpayers, and flew across the country to deny 20 million people health insurance? The mainstream media fell over themselves praising the speech he gave that day. Liberals hated it. Sure, pretty words, but they’re completely at odds with that shameful vote you just cast. What a phony.

Well, no more. He did the right thing. He cast a historic vote. Of course, it shouldn’t have come to this. No one should have voted for this travesty, written over lunch and not designed to fix anything; cynically reverse-engineered just to get 50 votes, damn the substance. It didn’t deserve one vote, let alone 49.

McCain’s vote—and Susan Collins’s and Lisa Murkowski’s; let’s not get so overwhelmed with McCainmania that we forget these brave women—will rightly go down in Senate history. Earlier in the week, James Fallows wrote a terrific piece comparing, unfavorably, McCain to long-ago California Senator Clair Engle, a Democrat, who in 1964 was wheeled into the Senate chamber to cast a vote for civil rights. Engle, too, had cancer. He couldn’t speak. When the clerk called his name, he pointed to his eye to indicate he was voting “aye.”

That vote is remembered with admiration, and this one will be too. In historical terms, McCain, Collins, and Murkowski did exactly what the Founding Fathers had it in mind for the United States Senate to do.

This is an important point that we might dwell on for a moment.

Ask yourself: Why even have two legislatures? Most countries have one. We have two basically because we had such large states and small states. At the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787, the delegates convened in Philadelphia and started talking about the legislative branch first, before the presidency. The idea was for a house that would be representative based on population. Whoa, said the small states; we’ll be screwed. So they came up with a plan for an upper house in which every state would have two senators.

This was the famous Connecticut Compromise. It passed by one vote, 5-4-1. The Senate, said George Washington, should be like the saucer that cools the tea. The House of Representatives, the people’s house, would be where the passions of the moment would be given voice. The Senate would be where the people would say “Hey, wait a minute here.”

McCain, Collins, and Murkowski said “Hey, wait a minute here.” They said what George Washington said they should say.

This is a total humiliation for Mitch McConnell. Mr. Master Tactician. The tactics he was using here were so beyond the pale. Just so you understand: He went around the normal process in the first place, which would have required 60 votes—a hurdle that Obamacare cleared in 2010. Then he put forward bills that were cynically partisan. No hearings (there might have been one or two quick ones). No deliberation. Everything exactly the opposite of what the Founders wanted the Senate to be. Culminating in a fraudulent bill written in a few hours.

It’s a total humiliation for the Republican Party, which has promised its base that it would get rid of Obamacare for seven years and then at the moment of truth couldn’t deliver. They couldn’t deliver because what they wanted to do was terrible policy that the American people opposed. Our democracy is corrupt in numerous ways, but it’s nice to see that public opinion still matters.

And it’s a total humiliation for Donald Trump. This man who knows nothing about health care got exactly what he deserved. Look at the Trump White House over the last 24 hours. One staffer refers to another as trying to “suck his own cock” (by the way, don’t type that phrase into Google). In the White House. In the White House. These people are beyond disgusting. And boy did they deserve this.

It’s a massive win for Chuck Schumer, who held his caucus together on every vote and was on the phone with McCain several times a day. We’ll know more about that soon, I’d guess. It’s a massive win for President Obama, who wisely kept it zipped. And it’s a massive win for the Resistance, which probably didn’t influence John McCain but which has been so active and let America know that the opposition to this repeal was broad and not fringe but rooted in our communities, churches, other houses of worship. Real Americans, in other words.

In the future, when we finally have universal health care in this country, this will be remembered as a crucial point in the process of getting there. And it will be remembered as the day John McCain decided to be a real senator again.

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