Will John McCain copy Ted Kennedy?
John McCain had told reporters that his vote depended upon House speaker Paul Ryan assuring him that the skinny bill would not become law, that it would go to conference. The speaker gave that assurance publicly.
Later that evening, reporters asked McCain how he was going to vote. He told them to "watch the show."
In the early hours of Friday morning, forty-nine Republicans voted for repeal. The deciding fiftieth vote was John McCain's. All eyes were on him as he entered the room and walked to the well. McCain slowly raised his right hand, as if to call for silence (an unnecessary gesture, since the room was quiet already). Then, like Emperor Tiberius deciding the fate of a fallen gladiator, he turned his thumb down.
Wrong digit in the wrong direction, but his message was clear. McCain's performance had nothing to do with health care and the millions of people who suffer under it. This was about drama in the spotlight – the lone man standing in the middle of the arena shouting out "f--- you" to the president of the United States who had once insulted him by denying his heroism. For years, McCain had vowed to repeal Obamacare if he had the chance. But now, given that chance, he voted instead to settle a score.
The "Maverick" of the Senate has returned to Phoenix, where he is being treated for brain cancer. We all wish him well. I hope he retires and lets Arizona Republican governor Doug Ducey name his replacement. In that event, the Senate can return to the regular order McCain claims to prize, with its complement of 52 Republican senators intact. But recent comments increasingly critical of our president suggest otherwise. Perhaps the Maverick will be tempted to copy the "Lion" of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, who refused to resign after he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008.
Before his cancer diagnosis, Kennedy was expected to be the sixtieth vote to pass Obamacare. After he became sick, he was pressured to resign so Massachusetts Democrat governor Deval Patrick could name a replacement, who would then run in the upcoming special election as an incumbent. Kennedy refused. His Senate seat was finally ripped from his cold, dead hands after he died in August 2009. Republican Scott Brown won that special election on his promise to stop Obamacare. Democrat finagling got Obamacare passed anyway.
History seems to be repeating itself. But it won't rhyme. During his active career, Kennedy was loyal to his party.