McCain Plays Spoiler Again for GOP 09/23 11:48
Looking at the twilight of his career and a grim cancer diagnosis,
Republican Sen. John McCain from Arizona, who prides himself on an independent
streak, could not be moved to go along with a last-ditch GOP push to overhaul
the nation's health care system.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- John McCain faced a choice that balanced friendship,
party loyalty and his convictions. He made the decision some of his closest
Looking at the twilight of his career and a grim cancer diagnosis, the
Republican senator from Arizona who prides himself on an independent streak
could not be moved to go along with a last-ditch GOP push to overhaul the
nation's health care system.
Those close to him say he wrestled with the choice --- the legislation was
championed by his best friend in the Senate --- but rarely strayed from his
intention to send a message to the institution where he's spent three decades.
That message was bipartisanship and what he cast as the integrity of the
Senate process that insists on debate and often yields compromise. The call for
"regular order" isn't the stuff of campaign bumper stickers, but it has become
McCain's mission since he's returned to Washington, to keep up his work and
treatment for an often fatal brain tumor.
"If he supported this, then he guts his whole message that he's been trying
to give his colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans," said Rick Davis, who
managed McCain's two presidential campaigns and remains close to the lawmaker.
Davis said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., "made his pitch" to his longtime
friend, but McCain was motivated by "his drive to move the Senate toward more
comity and bipartisanship."
McCain's decision probably will kill the bill and crush the GOP's hopes for
repealing the Obama health law this year. Republicans have tried to go it alone
in overhauling the Affordable Care Act, speeding two attempts at passage along
with minimal hearings and debate.
McCain's statement declaring his opposition to the legislation Friday was
the second time he derailed the effort.
In July, bearing a fresh surgery scar over his left eye, McCain scolded
lawmakers from the Senate floor. Incremental progress isn't glamorous or
exciting, and it can be "less satisfying than winning," said the man who won
his party's nomination but lost the White House in 2008. He struck a similar
tone on Friday in a written statement, saying he believed "we could do better
working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried."
That McCain is well enough to play this central figure in the Republican
health care efforts is a surprise to many given the gravity of his diagnosis.
He announced this summer that he had an aggressive and usually fatal tumor
called glioblastoma, the same type of tumor that killed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy,
D-Mass., in 2009 and Beau Biden, son of then-Vice President Joe Biden, in 2015.
Biden is among the many longtime colleagues who has been in touch with
McCain since his diagnosis, and the two are scheduled to reunite next month,
when Biden presents the senator with the National Constitution Center's Liberty
McCain has privately bristled at his return to Washington being covered like
a melodrama, and his friends have steadfastly tried to avoid treating him like
a man nearing the end of his life. When McCain's children and some colleagues
flocked to his Arizona ranch this summer, the mood was upbeat and the senator
often joined his guests for hikes.
"What this man has been through in his life gives him a very calm and
reasoned attitude toward death," said Charlie Black, a veteran McCain adviser.
"He believes he's escaped it many times and maybe will again."
Persevering against seemingly insurmountable odds has been a constant in
McCain's life and shaped his political career.
As a Navy pilot, McCain survived a fire that killed 134 sailors aboard the
aircraft carrier USS Forrestal in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. He
was captured after his plane was shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi
and spent five years as a prisoner of war, refusing early release. Later in
life, he survived several bouts with melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer.
McCain, his staff and his family have made some adjustments to account for
his desire to work through his illness.
After finishing his first round of radiation and chemotherapy this summer at
the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, McCain and his wife Cindy decided to decamp to
Washington, moving the senator's treatment to the National Institutes of
Health. He's undergoing a second round of therapies now and spends weekends in
the nation's capital rather than returning to Arizona.
Friends notice that the 81-year-old tires more easily in the afternoon, and
his staff tries to front-load his schedule most days, a challenge in the
sometimes nocturnal Senate. But friends and advisers say the senator is
committed to keeping up as much of a regular schedule as possible while
Congress is in session. As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he
stays in regular touch with top administration officials, including national
security adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
"The citizens of Arizona are getting their money's worth," said Steve
Duprey, a friend of the senator.