The last two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for many Americans, but it’s unlikely many of them can match John McCain’s experience.
About two weeks ago, the Arizona senator was diagnosed with a brain tumor after an operation to remove a blood clot in his head. Last Wednesday, that diagnosis became public. By Tuesday, he’d flown back in to Washington for a critical vote to open debate on an Obamacare repeal bill. First, he cast the decisive vote to proceed to the debate, handing Republican leadership a big win, and then he delivered an impassioned speech, taking Republican leaders (and the president) to task for their process on the bill.
Finally, early Friday morning—despite entreaties from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Vice President Pence, and President Trump himself—McCain cast another decisive vote, this time to reject the latest repeal attempt, dubbed “skinny repeal.”
As his decision became clear on the Senate floor, McCain drifted away from dejected Republicans and toward Democrats, who grinned and hugged him. But the episode seems to help clarify McCain’s status as he reaches the twilight of a long Senate career. John McCain is not, despite some of the most fevered denunciations, a man without principle. Under intense pressure Thursday night and into Friday morning, he refused to budge. But his principles are unusual—he values process, decorum, and Senate traditions to a degree that many observers find strange—and anyone who expects him to be a hero for their own ideological cause is likely to be disappointed.