If you want to laud Senator John McCain for his military service, or for his occasional high-profile stabs at bipartisanship, feel free. But it didn’t take a lick of courage to vote against an ACA repeal bill that was supported by fewer than 20 percent of the electorate, and which would have killed off some unknown number of his constituents if it passed.
It isn’t “mavericky” to fly into the capital on Tuesday to offer the deciding vote to take up a series of bills that would have stripped insurance coverage from between 16 and 23 million people, only to grab the spotlight with a no vote two nights later during the final, decidedly operatic act.
“Wait for the show,” McCain had told reporters during last night’s grueling series of votes. Then, at 1:29 this morning, he walked to the center of the Senate floor, paused to make sure everyone was watching, raised his arm, and, like a Roman emperor deciding the fate of a fallen gladiator, turned his thumb down as he said, “No.”
Republicans faced intense pressure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but they had nobody to blame for that but themselves. For seven years, they’d portrayed Obamacare as something between a bad outbreak of Ebola and a planet-destroying meteorite. Despite its flaws, many of which were intentionally inflicted by Republicans intent on depriving Barack Obama of a legacy, the law nonetheless reduced the rate of uninsured to an all-time low, expanded public health care to 14 million low-income people and slowed the growth in health-care costs dramatically.
But in Republicans’ telling, it had had the opposite effect, driving premiums through the roof and pricing millions of people out of the market. And those lies paled beside their blather about “death panels” and “government takeovers.” We never stopped hearing about Obamacare’s “victims”—the estimated 1.6 million people who lost mostly substandard plans after Obama’s unfortunate promise that if you liked your insurance plan you could keep it. Never mind that around 15 times that number gained coverage under the law.
Republicans found themselves in a position where they were forced to choose between screwing over their constituents in unprecedented numbers, or facing the wrath of a GOP base that had been whipped into a frenzy by their rhetoric and would now feel a keen sense of betrayal. But it was their rhetoric that created both the rock and the hard place they found themselves stuck between this week.