Watching CSPAN 2 last night as Sen. John McCain joined Sens. Collins and Murkowski in voting against the GOP’s deeply cruel and cynical “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act was perhaps the most triumphant political moment since before the 2016 election. The rest of the stories we’ve been following since November have ranged from horrifying to spine-chilling to morbidly hilarious.
But this event saved the lives and livelihoods of 16 million or more Americans — against all odds and in defiance of GOP party loyalty. Obamacare has passed too many tests to count, including more than 60 repeal votes, Supreme Court rulings and the election of Donald Trump to match the Republican-controlled Congress.
The ultimate irony here is that the deciding vote — the final Republican “no” vote to be entered into the record last night was cast by a man who was humiliatingly defeated by Barack Obama in 2008, an event that directly led to the passage of the bill that McCain’s vote helped to save. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski earned full credit as well for their absolutely brave and defiant votes. I wouldn’t trade their blood-curdling Twitter mentions for anything in the world today. The hellfire they’re surely catching from Trump loyalists would turn even the strongest among us into puddles of quivering goo, yet Collins and Murkowski did the right thing in the face of their party leadership and the screeching of thousands of Trump-Republicans.
Further adding to the irony, though, was the fact that McCain was flown back to D.C. after harrowing brain cancer surgery in order to rescue Mitch McConnell’s spastic abandonment of regular order to kill Obamacare. McCain was supposed to help the Republicans win, and, instead, he ended up playing for the other side, becoming the cleanup hitter in the bottom of the ninth inning with two runners on base. Sadly for Collins and Murkowski, it’s the player who hits that final dinger to win the ballgame who’s usually the one who gets the applause, but it was absolutely a three-senator effort on the Republican side and the accolades ought to be evenly distributed. Oh, and don’t forget that the entire Democratic caucus voted in unison right down the line. So much for the “discord on the left” narrative.
Making the occasion even more enjoyable was revisiting this tweet from the president:
So great that John McCain is coming back to vote. Brave – American hero! Thank you John.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
Yes, thank you, John. Thank you for sticking it to the cartoon autocrat who’s repeatedly insulted your heroism.
Initially, I merely fantasized that McCain cast his no-vote in order to exact revenge against Trump and his cowardly posturing. But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the opportunity to embarrass Trump was an animating factor in McCain’s decision to surprise the world.
While we’re here, let’s never forget the tenacity of thousands of activists who pursued their members of Congress until the very end. If I had to crown an MVP in all of this, it wouldn’t be McCain or Collins or Murkowski, it’d be the healthcare activists who never quit.
Now, any repeal bills have to be shelved for at least the rest of the year per the reconciliation rules of the Senate. Better yet, once 2018 rolls around, it’ll be midterms, midterms, midterms and the GOP wouldn’t dare take another stab at a repeal with an election around the corner, as well as the reality that a record number of Democrats are set to challenge sitting Republicans — 209 of them so far, when it’s usually closer to 40 or 50 at this early stage in the contest during previous years.
We’ve been following the ongoing saga of the Affordable Care Act for more than eight years now. We’ve observed as the bill nearly died countless deaths before any votes were cast. There was President Obama’s joint-session address in September of 2009 when a loud-mouthed Republican accused the president of lying — we all remember Rep. Joe Wilson’s undignified and obnoxious “you lie!” exclamation. We sat on the edge of our seats through numerous votes to pass the bill, including the pivotal vote on Christmas Eve 2009. There were Supreme Court challenges that could’ve killed Obamacare, yet it endured and was strengthened by those challenges. There were the aforementioned repeal votes. There was the 2012 election when Mitt Romney could’ve become the president waiting to sign a repeal in the Oval Office. Obamacare has even endured the age of Trump and the sheer chaos that’s destroying Washington, tradition by tradition, institution by institution.
Obamacare lives on: a testament to democracy and what the law has accomplished for millions of Americans.
The story of this law is a story of democracy — the voices of “we the people” who made it happen. The disabled Americans who stormed the Hill. The former president. The congressional Democrats, including Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. The writers, news anchors and wonks — the social media users and bloggers who worked every day to explain the benefits of the bill and why it needs to be protected.
Now, it’s up to all of the above to propose ways to plug any leaks in the law, while devising ways to expand it to eventually reach a Medicare-for-all system. If the Obamacare story has taught us anything, it’s that we can accomplish amazing things when we choose to make the effort.