WASHINGTON — The efforts of U.S. Senate Republicans to repeal former President Obama's 2010 health care law collapsed early Friday morning, thanks to a shocking defection from U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence knew the margin would be tight. They needed 50 votes, plus Pence's tie-breaking capacity as the president of the Senate. Both U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz backed the effort.
But Republican U.S. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were widely considered out of reach for supporting the repeal, so the GOP could only lose one other vote among its 52 senators.
Much of the focus was on other senators, those in tough re-election fights or who had shown reluctance toward efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act in recent weeks. But it was McCain who delivered the final blow.
Cruz was irate over the result.
"There are going to be a great many Americans who tonight feel a sense of betrayal," he said. "If you stand up and campaign and say we're gonna repeal Obamacare and you vote for Obamacare, those are not consistent."
"And the American people are entirely justified in saying that any politician who told me that and voted the other way, didn't tell the truth. They lied to me," Cruz added.
Cornyn said Friday morning that Democrats would own any future problems in the health insurance market related to Obamacare.
U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care. He issued a statement Friday morning criticizing Republican leaders for their approach to crafting health care legislation.
“Democracy is about bipartisanship and listening to what’s in the best interest of the people we serve," Green said. "The Republican Majority has worked in secrecy since the first day they started crafting legislation to repeal the ACA, and the failed attempts this week are a result of their path toward repeal.”
"I look forward to working with my Republican colleagues to build on the ACA and improve the law," he added
The bill at hand would have revoked the widely unpopular individual mandate that required Americans to buy insurance or pay a penalty, and another mandate on employers.
Few senators liked the bill, and it probably would have destabilized the health care markets and made a ban on pre-existing conditions economically untenable.
But for McCain, the problems were deeper. The 80-year-old firebrand returned to the Capitol with a scar across his forehead, a mark from his treatment of an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Early in the week, he expounded on how Senate leadership approached repeal — without committee hearings and with almost no time for the public to digest the bill. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell only released the text of the bill late Thursday and pushed the Senate to vote on it in the middle of the night.
Texas' two senators, Cruz and Cornyn, had much political capital invested in repeal. Cornyn is the second-ranking Senate Republican, and Cruz overtly put himself in the middle of negotiations and fought to bring fellow conservatives into the fold.
The failure is one of a series of blows this week delivered to President Donald Trump. With the August recess looming, GOP members of Congress will have little to show for the first seven months of the Trump administration beyond the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and the approval of a small amount of funding to build a border wall — a measure the U.S. House passed Thursday night.
The Senate is expected to reject that measure in September.