Collins, Murkowski—and McCain

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
As the votes were about to begin last night, via Twitter.

The rushed, secretive, reckless effort to get a “win,” any win, by undoing the Obama health care plan is at an end—for now.

It is over because the 48 Democratic and independent senators led by Chuck Schumer refused to be peeled off or to support a measure that was opposed by most of the public and by all professional groups involved in health care.

It is over because Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, refused to budge from her position that such a consequential bill needed to be considered in an appropriate, systematic way, and because Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, refused to be bullied into giving her support.

And it is over because John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, in the end cast a vote matching the principles he had expressed in his dramatic speech two days earlier, on his return to the Senate after cancer surgery.

Well done, 48 opponents. Well done, Senators Collins and Murkowski. Well done, Senator McCain, on making the “Clair Engle” choice at the end. (As did Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, who flew in from her own cancer treatment to speak passionately against the bill, and add her No vote.)

* * *

Would it have been “better,” or different, if John McCain had taken this step two days ago, when he could have stopped the final pell-mell drive toward the “vote-a-rama” and the slapped-together, last-minute “skinny” bill? On dramatic grounds, conceivably: His actions would have immediately matched his words. From the perspective of Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, two “moderates” up for re-election next year, almost certainly: If he’d voted No two days ago, they would not have needed to vote on the (indefensible) “skinny” bill at all, and if they’d known last night that his vote would doom the bill and make their own support moot, they could have afforded to oppose it too. (This is in keeping with the D.C. hypothesis that the bill would either pass by one vote—or lose by a lot, if reluctant senators realized that they didn’t need to line up behind an unpopular measure that was not going to make it anyway. In the end, it lost by one.)

But this is fine-tuning. John McCain did the right thing, as did Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, and the 48 other Senators who stood with them. Congratulations, and respect. They will all be remembered for it.