Most Republican senators backed the bill’s “federalist” approach even as they acknowledged they did not have time to fully scrutinize its potential effects. The Congressional Budget Office said it would not be able to fully evaluate the proposal for weeks, but with the September 30 deadline looming, McConnell announced his intention to bring the bill up for a vote anyway.
Democrats kicked their opposition campaign back into overdrive, aided by the late-night broadsides Jimmy Kimmel delivered against Cassidy, the first-term Louisianan who had earlier promised not to back legislation that would roll back protections for people with preexisting conditions. Their targets were McCain and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who had opposed the legislation in July but remained undecided on Graham-Cassidy.
Hoping to pressure Republican senators, McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan leaned on Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee to pull out of bipartisan negotiations on a narrower Obamacare fix that he was holding as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. But that move appears to have backfired: In his statement, McCain urged Alexander to continue seeking a bipartisan solution with Senator Patty Murray of Washington state, the top Democrat on the committee.
Democrats reacted to McCain’s announcement with the same mix of relief and praise as they did after his surprising thumbs-down in July. The word “hero” lit up Twitter timelines, as Obamacare supporters likened McCain’s decision to his years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats quickly called for a return to bipartisan negotiations to shore up the law’s shaky individual-market insurance exchanges. “John McCain shows the same courage in Congress that he showed when he was a naval aviator,” said the Senate minority leader, Charles Schumer. “I have assured Senator McCain that as soon as repeal is off the table, we Democrats are intent on resuming the bipartisan process.”
But it was unclear what Republicans intended to do. There was no immediate word from McConnell on whether he would still bring up Graham-Cassidy for a vote next week that now is likely to fail. Meanwhile, Graham issued a statement saying that while he disagreed with McCain’s position, “My friendship with [McCain] is not based on how he votes but respect for how he’s lived his life and the person he is.” As for his bill, Graham said, “We press on.” But he did not lay out a path forward, either for the legislation he offered or for the GOP’s broader goal of repealing Obamacare—both of which appear, again, to be out of reach.