DENVER – U.S. Senator Cory Gardner voted Tuesday in favor of the motion to proceed to a Senate floor debate on Republicans’ efforts to repeal, and possibly replace, the Affordable Care Act—despite not knowing what bill the Senate might take up to debate first.
The final vote came down to Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who came back to the Senate just days after being diagnosed with brain cancer to cast a vote.
Johnson had a lengthy discussion with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell before he cast his vote, and McConnell was the last senator to vote.
The two were the deciding factors after Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski voted against the motion to proceed to floor discussion.
Democrats, including Colorado’s Michael Bennet, abstained from voting until all the Republicans had cast votes one way or another, and all voted against the motion to proceed.
Vice President Mike Pence was forced to break the tie with a deciding vote to bring a health care bill to the floor for discussion.
The votes came at a dramatic time, as protesters shouted, “Kill the bill!” as Republicans voted.
McCain spoke after the successful vote, saying he proud of his Senate tenure, but also saying that he wouldn’t vote for a bill as they stand today, that procedures and deliberations in the Senate weren’t currently at their best, and that the Senate wasn’t “producing the best for the American people.”
“We’ve all played some role in it. Certainly I have,” McCain admitted, adding that sometimes he wanted to win for the sake of winning, which he said was problematic. He said that the senators should move forward in a bipartisan fashion and get over partisan divides.
“Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order,” McCain said. “We’re getting nothing done, my friends. We’re getting nothing done.”
McCain even admitted that the Senate had written its bills “behind closed doors” and that the current bills were “shells” of what most senators wanted.
“I will not vote for this bill as it is today,” McCain said. He also took a parting shot at the president before he heads back to Arizona to continue treatment.
"We are not the president's subordinates," he said. "We are his equal."
Gardner, the Republican senator from Colorado, and his staff had been mostly silent as to what sort of bill McConnell might put forward for debate first, and if he would only support a bill that replaced a repealed Affordable Care Act. Gardner had been one of the senators who, at least initially, had been among a handful who were working on the Senate version of the bill after the House passed its in early May.
A repeal-now, replace-later option was now the first bill on the table, but the BCRA with the Cruz amendment might end up being the bill the Senate votes on, as it was being read in full after the motion to proceed vote.
And it’s that option that Gardner voted for in his early days in the Senate, when both the House and Senate passed a bill on to then-President Barack Obama to replace his signature health care law.
After Gardner’s vote, he issued a statement saying he voted to proceed to debate so amendments could be offered.
“I voted to allow debate today because we can no longer subject Coloradans to a failing health care system without working toward solutions, and today’s vote will allow that debate to continue,“ Gardner said. “We can now offer amendments in an open setting to fix our nation’s healthcare system and bring relief to the American people.”
He offered no ideas as to what amendments should be offered, or what bill he hopes will be taken up.
Bennet, meanwhile, called Republicans' votes to proceed "shameful."
"It's shameful that [Senate Republicans] just voted to take up unknown legislation that could harm millions of Coloradans and Americans," he said. “Whether Republicans choose to vote for repeal-and-replace or repeal-and-delay, we know both outcomes would be devastating for Colorado families, hospitals, and rural communities. The American people deserve better than this.”
But he also praised McCain for his call for bipartisanship.
"Thank you @SenJohnMcCain for your call to work together. The loudest partisan voices should not drive our debate."
Now, McConnell and other Senate Republican leaders will have to decide which proposal to push to pass. It appeared he was first taking up the repeal-now, replace-later effort first in a substitute amendment that Rand Paul had pushed for, but that was uncertain with other options possible.
A “skinny repeal” that was put forth at the last minute and would likely force the health care efforts into conference committee was also a possibility, as is the Senate’s BCRA—which couldn’t muster enough votes to get to the floor earlier this month.
By Tuesday evening, it appeared as though the BCRA would be the first bill forward, as it was being read in full on the Senate floor.
The various Congressional Budget Office scores and Colorado Health Institute analysis for the bills have all shown that hundreds of thousands of Coloradans are likely lose health insurance—many of whom would be Medicaid recipients—over the next decade, and various estimates have shown billions of dollars in federal funding losses for the state.
President Trump lauded Senate Republicans after they passed the motion to proceed. He’d chided them for weeks to pass some sort of health care bill.
“I applaud the Senate for taking a giant step to end the Obamacare nightmare. As this vote shows, inaction is not an option, and now the legislative process can move forward as intended to produce a bill that lowers costs and increases options for all Americans,” the president said. “The Senate must now pass a bill and get it to my desk so we can finally end the Obamacare disaster once and for all.”
This is a developing news story; stay posted to Denver7 for updates.