Whether or not this is the final act of Obamacare, it is is playing out pretty much as expected in the dysfunctional Republican Senate, which is to say with no one having any idea what will happen in the end.
Mitch McConnell got his motion to move forward passed, 51-50, thanks to a dramatic reappearance by John McCain from his sickbed, a Mike Pence tiebreaker and the expected cave from a small group of craven centrists.
And yet, when the first true bill, the McConnell bill, the Trumpcare 3.0 bill, the Ted Cruz amendment bill, the Rob Portman compromise (or compromised) bill, came forward later in the evening, it got crushed. Nine Republicans from across the GOP spectrum voted against a bill, which, because the CBO hadn’t yet scored it, required 60 votes to pass. It got 43. In the words of a certain former president, it was a shellacking.
So, on the first day of voting on a process that should end by Friday, it looked for a time as if GOP was ready to make good on its seven-year promise to destroy Obamacare. And hours later, it looked as if the GOP was ready to make good on it more recent promise to do what it can to destroy itself. And now, the last hope seems to be the so-called “skinny repeal,” which does almost nothing at all except to dump the individual mandate and say the Senate could pass a bill, no matter how loopy, and get it to conference from which a much worse bill would almost certainly emerge.
But amid all the uncertainty, there was certainty, too.
First, there was the certainly sad case of John McCain, war hero, senior statesman, maverick, man before party, who emerged from his recent diagnosis of brain cancer to take the Senate floor to tell truth to his Republican colleagues, to chide them for their partisanship, to embarrass them for their dysfunction, to lament how little they had learned from their criticisms of party-line vote on Obamacare, to remind them how they were moving in a way that reflected the worst in myopic lawmaking.
Incredibly, he made this stirring speech just after having voted for the motion to move a partisan series of repeal bills forward for phony-baloney debate. Hadn’t he consulted his own speech? Wait, it gets stranger. And sadder. Six hours after making the speech that was still resounding around the Capitol, he would vote for BCRA, the Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill he had called a shell of a bill in his speech and said he couldn’t possibly support.
And so in one day, McCain gave away the entire story: the Republican Senate is shamefully dysfunctional, and yet even senators who should, and do, know better still vote along with leadership, presumably out of misguided party loyalty.
Which brings us to Cory Gardner, who, you may have noticed, has been pretending as if he remained undecided as to how to proceed when, in fact, he was just unwilling to reveal his plan. There’s a major difference. He was not being thoughtful. He was being disingenuous. Gardner must have been hoping, until the very end, not to have to vote at all.
But when he did vote, he made his choice. It was an ugly choice. It may be a choice that could fatally damage a promising career.
Most surprisingly, it was a choice he didn’t even have to make.
No one ever doubted that Gardner would vote for the motion to proceed. He’s a good soldier. It’s what good soldiers do. Only two Republicans—Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska —voted against it. Donald Trump said of the two senators, in his all-too-Trumpian way, that he felt “very sad — for them.”
And after the vote to move forward, Gardner could even argue, and with a somewhat straight face, that he had opposed Obamacare from the beginning of his Senate career and that this was maybe the best chance to do something beyond the 50-plus meaningless votes he had already taken to repeal the law.
But that wasn’t the tell for Gardner. The tell came in the second vote. That’s when Gardner voted for the McConnell bill, which, in an earlier form, the CBO estimated would cost 22 million Americans their healthcare coverage. The CBO said a lot of other things, about Medicaid, about the people who would be hurt — including children and those in nursing homes, the working poor. In other words, in many cases, the most vulnerable among us.
The CBO also told in painful terms the hundreds of billions of dollars that would be taken from Medicaid (the Portman amendment got that number somewhat reduced) and given to the rich in tax cuts. The bill might as well have been a not-so-funny caricature of Republican politics — cutting the safety net for the poor while all the money that falls through the net is being collected by the rich.
But when the vote came, there was a 60-vote requirement, meaning it had no chance to pass. This was just a roll call vote to make people say yea or nay on the record. It was generally a free vote. And still, Gardner, who is already in the Senate leadership and who has hopes of moving up, chose party leaders over 22 million Americans, over hundreds of thousands of Coloradans.
It’s indefensible morally. It’s also indefensible politically. As I said, it was a free vote, for a bill that had no chance, taken by a senator whose state (in the latest Gallup poll) shows a 38 percent approval rating for Trump, who would presumably head the ticket when Gardner presumably runs for re-election in 2020. It’s a bill that has a 28 percent approval nationally and probably a few points lower than that in Colorado.
And yet on Wednesday morning, Gardner told 9News’ Brandon Rittiman that he might even vote for the next bill, a straight repeal, a concept he had said earlier, in a rare statement, that he wouldn’t support and one that the CBO says would cost 32 million people — yes, 32 million — their healthcare. It’s another bill that has no chance to pass.
And so, Gardner, who would then run the table by definitely supporting the last-hope skinny-repeal bill, is apparently all in. It’s hard to imagine him making a worse bet, for him or for us.