U.S. Sen. John McCain said Friday he will not support his party's Graham-Cassidy healthcare legislation, dashing hopes for GOP leaders.
He is the second Republican in the Senate to publicly oppose Graham-Cassidy.
"I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal," McCain said in a statement. "I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it.
"The bill's authors are my dear friends and I think the world of them. I know they are acting consistently with their beliefs and sense of what is best for the country. So am I," McCain wrote.
With the Arizona senator's defection, there are now two declared GOP "no" votes on the repeal legislation, the other being Rand Paul of Kentucky. With Democrats unanimously opposed, that's the exact number McConnell can afford to lose. But Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins said Friday she, too, is leaning against the bill, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was also a possible "no," making it highly unlikely that McConnell can prevail.
So once again, the GOP seems destined to fail on a campaign promise that every Republican agreed on — right up until the party obtained full control of Congress and the White House this year and was actually in position to follow through.
Late Friday, Trump slammed McCain for his opposition during a rally in Alabama.
Trump called McCain's opposition "totally unexpected" and "terrible" during a campaign rally in Huntsville, Ala., where he stumped on behalf of Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., ahead of Tuesday's GOP primary runoff against former judge Roy Moore.
Trump seemed to blame his staff for the debacle, saying he was provided a list of 10 GOP senators who were "absolute no's" on the Obamacare repeal, but McCain wasn't on the list.
"John McCain was not on the list. So that was a totally unexpected thing, terrible. Honestly, terrible," Trump said.
"John McCain, if you look at his last campaign, it was all about repeal and replace, repeal and replace," he added. "So he decided to do something different, and that's fine."
"We're going to do it eventually," Trump added. Vice President Mike Pence also said the fight wasn't over.
"This is not going to be easy. Some have gone so far as to announce their opposition already," he said. "President Trump and I are undeterred."
Graham, too, vowed in a statement to "press on," and reaffirmed his friendship with McCain.
Up until McCain's announcement Friday, close McConnell allies were still optimistic McCain's relationship with Graham might make the difference.
GOP leaders hoped to bring the legislation to the Senate floor next week. They face a Sept. 30 deadline, at which point special rules that prevent a Democratic filibuster will expire.
Democrats hailed McCain's announcement and pledged to commit to the bipartisan process he sought. GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington have been working on a package of limited legislative fixes to the "Obamacare" marketplaces.
"John McCain shows the same courage in Congress that he showed when he was a naval aviator," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "I have assured Sen. McCain that as soon as repeal is off the table, we Democrats are intent on resuming the bipartisan process."
The Graham-Cassidy bill would repeal major pillars of Obama's law, replacing them with block grants to states to design their own programs. Major medical groups are opposed, saying millions would lose insurance coverage and protections, and a bipartisan group of governors also has announced opposition.
Yet Republican congressional leaders, goaded by GOP voters and the president himself, were determined to give it one last try. Trump spent much of August needling McConnell for his failure to pass a repeal bill, and Republican lawmakers back home during Congress' summer recess heard repeatedly from voters angered that after seven years of promises to get rid of "Obamacare," the party had not delivered.
The House passed its own repeal bill back in May, prompting Trump to convene a Rose Garden celebration, which soon began to look premature.
After the Senate failed in several attempts in July, the legislation looked dead. But Cassidy kept at it with his state-focused approach, and the effort caught new life in recent weeks as the deadline neared. Trump pushed hard, hungry for a win.
Trump tweeted Friday morning that "Rand Paul, or whoever votes against Hcare Bill, will forever (future political campaigns) be known as 'the Republican who saved ObamaCare.'"
On the other side, late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel, whose son was born with a heart defect, got considerable attention when he criticized the new repeal effort at length on his show and said the Republicans were lying about what their new program would cover. In a tweet Friday, he thanked McCain "for being a hero again and again and now AGAIN."
The bill would get rid of unpopular mandates for people to carry insurance or face penalties. It would repeal the financing for Obama's health insurance expansion and create a big pot of money states could tap to set up their own programs, with less federal oversight. It would also limit spending for Medicaid, the federal-state program that now covers more than 70 million low-income people. Insurance rules that protect people with pre-existing conditions could be loosened through state waivers.
Over time, the legislation would significantly reduce federal health care dollars now flowing to the states. But McConnell had little margin for error in a Senate split 52-48 between Republicans and Democrats, and could lose only two votes, counting on Pence to break the tie.
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Bloomberg News.
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