Updated on July 25 at 10:08 p.m. Eastern
Senate Republicans have voted to begin debate on legislation to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, clearing a key procedural hurdle even as it remains unclear what—if any—legislation the party might ultimately pass.
The vote was as narrow as it gets: With two Republicans out of their slim majority of 52 opposing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s motion to proceed on Tuesday afternoon, Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie to formally launch deliberations that had taken place almost entirely in private for two months. The vote was briefly delayed as Senate officials removed protesters shouting “Kill the Bill! Kill the Bill!” from the balcony of the chamber.
As recently as 24 hours before the vote, Senate aides were predicting it would fail, delivering yet another blow to the GOP’s hopes of at least partially repealing and replacing Obamacare after seven years of campaign promises. But the return of Senator John McCain of Arizona after a brain-cancer diagnosis and McConnell’s success in wooing his fellow Kentucky hardliner, Senator Rand Paul, gave the motion some late momentum. In a dramatic moment, McCain entered the chamber long after most Republicans had voted to cast a crucial vote to begin debate. But even with McCain’s support, McConnell still had to persuade Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who has criticized his handling of the issue, to vote with the party. After a lengthy one-on-one discussion with the majority leader, Johnson cast the 50th vote after McCain had entered the chamber to a round of bipartisan applause.