To applause and backslapping from his colleagues in the Senate, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain returned to the chamber on Tuesday afternoon for the first time since his brain cancer diagnosis. Before he and the other senators voted to advance the Republican health care bill, he gave pointed remarks that were warmly received by many in the Senate with applause and approval.
He made both a plea for bipartisanship and a return to business as usual in the Senate, while also telling his colleagues “Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and Internet.” He added, “To hell with them. They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood."
“Make no mistake, my service here is the most important job I have had in my life. And I am so grateful to the people of Arizona for the privilege—for the honor—of serving here and the opportunities it gives me to play a small role in the history of the country I love,” McCain said. “But they knew that however sharp and heartfelt their disputes, however keen their ambitions, they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively.”
McCain observed that the Senate is now “more partisan, more tribal” than at any previous time he remembers. “Our deliberations can still be important and useful, but I think we’d all agree they haven’t been overburdened by greatness lately—and right now they aren’t producing much for the American people,” McCain said. Blaming “both sides” for gridlock, McCain said, “We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides.” McCain said.
Indicating his departure from partisan loyalty, McCain warned that he will not support the Republican health care bill in its present form. Even so, McCain voted in favor of a motion to allow Senators to start debate on the bill. He was joined by Vice President Mike Pence who while presiding over the Senate cast the deciding vote: 51-50. McCain said, “I will not vote for the bill as it is today. It’s a shell of a bill right now. We all know that. We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past unified opposition.”
While President Trump was not mentioned by name by McCain, he did mention that the Senate is an “important check on the powers of the Executive.” McCain said, “Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal. As his responsibilities are onerous, many and powerful, so are ours.”