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Senate Votes 50-50 to Move to Healthcare Debate as McCain Returns

WASHINGTON — Despite a lengthy interruption from protesters in the gallery chanting “shame” and “kill the bill,” the Senate voted to proceed to debate on repealing Obamacare on a 50-50 vote that required Vice President Pence to cast the tie-breaker.

Some of the more reticent GOP senators, though, indicated that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll vote in favor of the bill itself.

“I will continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of West Virginians. I remain committed to reforming our healthcare system while also addressing the concerns I have voiced for months,” Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said in a statement just before the vote. “I will continue to push for policies that result in affordable health care coverage for West Virginians, including those who are in the Medicaid population and those struggling with drug addiction.”

Democrats sat and withheld their unified “no” votes until every Republican had cast a yea or nay. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) cast their “no” votes quickly.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was diagnosed with a brain tumor last week, arrived near the end of the vote and received a standing ovation from colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) gave McCain a hug before the Arizona senator voted for the motion to proceed.

After the vote, McCain railed against the bill as being crafted outside of regular order and rammed through, chiding his colleagues to “stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and internet — they don’t want anything done for the public good.”

McCain said he voted to proceed simply to allow amendments on the “shell of a bill,” but “I will not vote for this bill as it is today.”

“If this process ends in failure, which seems likely, let’s return to regular order” with committee hearings and “contributions from both sides,” he said, eliciting applause from senators.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who sat next to President Trump at a luncheon last week and smiled as Trump took jabs at his opposition to an earlier version of the Senate healthcare bill, was the surprise “yes” of the afternoon.

“Obamacare isn’t the answer, but doing nothing to try to solve the problems it has created isn’t the answer either,” Heller said in a statement. “That is why I will vote to move forward and give us a chance to address the unworkable aspects of the law that have left many Nevadans — particularly those living in rural areas — with dwindling or no choices.”

“Whether it’s my ideas to protect Nevadans who depend on Medicaid or the Graham-Cassidy proposal that empowers states and repeals the individual and employer mandates, there are commonsense solutions that could improve our healthcare system and today’s vote gives us the opportunity to fight for them,” the senator added. “If the final product isn’t improved for the state of Nevada, then I will not vote for it; if it is improved, I will support it.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who unlike Heller and Capito has been arguing that the bill does not go far enough, tweeted that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) assured him that the bill would be a clean Obamacare repeal, so he would vote to proceed to debate.

“I’ve been told by leadership their bill would now need 60 votes to pass, votes they do not have. Therefore I believe it will fail,” Paul added. “If we cannot pass full, clean 2015 repeal, I’ve also been told we will vote on whatever version of CLEAN repeal we can pass.”

Outside the Senate, protesters were fed pizza by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

Off Capitol Hill, the Washington Post reported on a speech former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave last week in Las Vegas in which he predicted Obamacare is here to stay.

“Here we are, seven months into this year, and yet they’ve not passed this bill. Now, they’re never — they’re not going to repeal and replace ObamaCare,” Boehner said. “It’s been around too long. And the American people have gotten accustomed to it. Governors have gotten accustomed to this Medicaid expansion, and so trying to pull it back is really not going to work.”