Littwin: McCain (also Collins, Murkowski) a hero for doing what everyone should have done

Let’s face it, we desperately needed a hero. The country needed a hero as much as the millions whose health care was put at risk needed a 51st vote in those early morning hours on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Everyone understood the stakes. At some point in our nation’s history, drama had given way to farce, greatness had become an Orwellian term and Donald Trump had been elected president.

And as if to reinforce the point, at the same time Trump and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell were thoughtlessly working to rob 20-some million people of their health care coverage by overturning Obamacare, the latest character to emerge from TrumpWorld was someone called Mooch, who would be played by Joe Pesci in the movie. All he was missing was the baseball bat.

In just days on the job, the Mooch managed to hit new Trumpian lows in back-stabbing vulgarity, overshadowing the president himself even as Trump was sharing locker room stories with Boy Scouts. If we’ve learned anything in these past six months, it’s that there’s no such thing as the low point in TrumpWorld. There are valleys and deeper valleys and, at some point surely, the abyss.

And so entered John McCain, who understands this hero stuff as well as anyone. He has been a hero on the public stage for most of his adult life, and he knows full well the price that comes with the territory. He knows it each times he disappoints those who expect better of him, and he knows it each time he disappoints himself.

For those of us who have covered McCain over the years, we’ve seen both at play, and we’ve seen a man who has the good graces to at least feel bad when he doesn’t meet his own standards, which has happened all too often, and we won’t even get into the whole Sarah Palin thing.

This time was different. McCain had just been disagnosed with aggressive brain cancer. The prognosis is, to put it as gracefully as possible, not good. There is, we’ll assume, a focusing of the mind at such a point, but for McCain, he has been there before, with previous cancers and with, of course, the North Vietnamese.

McCain literally arose from his sickbed to come to Washington to vote on Obamacare. Who would expect less? And in the span of just a few days, McCain dominated the discussion. He was the deciding vote in favor of the motion to proceed, making everything that followed possible. If he had stayed home, the debate would have ended. The Republicans’ seven-year obsessive assault on Obamacare, for which they never developed a serious response, would have ended.

But McCain voted yes just moments before giving a speech decrying all that was wrong with politics in general and the U.S. Senate in particular. And then, six hours later, he voted for — yes, for — a rushed repeal-and-replace bill that would have robbed 22 million of their health care coverage and robbed Medicaid of nearly $800 billion, a bill he had just said he wouldn’t vote for.

Fortunately, the bill was crushed anyway. Who knows why McCain voted yes and then, finally, no? To build the drama? To keep us up late on a Thursday night, watching C-Span, trying to read lips or interpret body language? Was McCain really laughing with Schumer? Did Pence look even more, well, pensive than usual? Was the Republican dream really going to die because Republicans couldn’t find 50 votes among their 52 senators?

Democrats had two Republican votes to stop repeal. They needed three. Maine Sen. Susan Collins was solid all along. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was as well. There were no McCain heroics if these two women — who would be reviled, naturally, because they were women — hadn’t stood firm and refused to vote for each iteration of Obamacare repeal.

The Trumpsters had resorted their typical deal-making prowess to their attempt to change Murkowski’s vote. They  sent Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — think of him as the muscle — to remind Murkowski of her vote and to remind her that he might have to change his mind on some Alaska projects. I don’t know if she laughed in his face, or spit in it, but clearly she didn’t change her vote.

Of course, Trump’s treatment of McCain is another matter. We can all remember when Trump said he prefers his heroes to have not been captured. It’s not unfair to wonder if McCain flashed back to that moment when he cast his vote.

But there’s a better explanation. For McCain, this was a legacy vote. He loves being called the maverick, and if he has not been mavericky enough to suit some of us, this is a vote that will be remembered forever more. Former New York Times columnist Frank Rich likened it to the moment Joseph Welch stood up to Joe McCarthy. That may be overreach, but the point is close enough.

This final vote was for something called “skinny repeal,” a bill that some Republicans themselves had called a fraud. Many were saying they would vote for the bill only if they were assured it would never become law. Has that ever happened before? Do we need to keep asking that question?

But there was no such assurance. And in the CBO scoring of a bill that would do little more than end individual and corporate mandates, 16 million would have lost insurance while premiums would have skyrocketed. The idea was to get the bill to a House-Senate conference in order to bail out the failing Senate.

What’s a hero? There’s a Hollywood line that says the difference between a hero and a coward is one step sideways. We know the names of those who went sideways. Capito, Heller, Johnson, Graham, Portman, more. We know the names of those who didn’t move at all, frozen in the moment. We can start with Cory Gardner.

Everyone should have voted against this bill. Everyone. There could hardly be a worse bill. It didn’t do what Republicans promised. It needlessly hurt millions. Every Democrat voted against.  Susan Collins voted against. Lisa Murkowski voted against. And when John McCain walked toward the podium and shouted, “No,” the drama and the repeal effort were put to rest.

This once, high drama would overcome low comedy. And now, on the morning after, we’re left to wonder when or if that might happen again.

Photo by Tobias Begemann, via Flickr: Creative Commons


  1. I find it fascinating to recognize
    * after 7 years of promising to replace the ACA, we find out there is no plan in place. Every option trotted out in the House and the Senate was cobbled together days (or even just hours) ahead of the vote.
    * The House managed to reach a majority only when they were reassured that their bill wouldn’t be the final bill, that the Senate would fix things.
    * The Senate, the “Greatest Deliberative Body in the World” could not pass a vote to have a debate without dragging in Pence.
    * After the decision to hold a debate, the Republican leadership still did not have a single developed bill (Seven years and eight months since the promise to repeal and replace).
    * Some Senators actually said out loud that they would vote in support of the bill only if they could be assured that it would not pass the House, and thus would not become the law.
    * After years of criticizing Democrats for passing the ACA in a late-night, pressure filled session, the Republicans’ best hope was to do exactly the same thing.

  2. Thinking they could whip an ignorant “patriotic” public into a frenzy (with some racism roots) about a healthcare plan ACA THAT ORIGINATED WITH REPUBLITHUGS THEMSELVES (the rightwing Heritage Foundation), the shortsighted and greedy sycophantic Repubs got a tiger by the tail. Now they’re not able to let go of that tail. I hope that tiger eats every one of them, starting with McConnell and Ryan and then that craven Cory Gardner. Public servants, my big toe.

  3. Collins and Murkowski had WAY more on the line then Mc Cain and thus they are every bit the hero…if not more so, than McCain.

  4. I respect John McCain for voting against the skinny repeal, but think Senators Murkowski and Collins deserve at least as much recognition as McCain. They’re probably going to find themselves running against a GOP-backed candidate in their next primary which will make re-election that much harder, as well as having to stand up to the GOP leadership during the rest of their current terms.

  5. Elections have consequences.

    “Hiding news that doesn’t fit an ideological or a partisan agenda is perhaps the worst form of media bias. And it’s one more reason the public holds the press is such low esteem.” – Investor’s Business Daily

    “(Mr. Trump) won’t be president. He was sliding in the polls before the video, and the video now means that he has no way to climb back. Which independent voter, which suburban woman, which Main Street Republican on the fence is going to vote for Trump now?” – Mike Littwin

    “And while I’m generally anti-filibuster, I make one exception for any and all years in which Donald Trump is president.” – Mike Littwin


    “He was not being thoughtful. He was being disingenuous”

    No, that was not a description of Mr. Littwin although it could have been. It was Mr. Littwin describing (surprise!, surprise!) Senator Cory Gardner and if there’s one guy who knows about being thoughtless and disingenuous that guy would be Mr. Littwin.

    How disingenuous is Mr. Littwin? Well, first he wants readers to believe that supporting the so-called skinny-repeal would be bad “for (Senator Gardner) or for us” Mr. Littwin not only presumes to speak for Senator Gardner—-laughable on its own—-but for “us”—-even more laughable. The level of hubris required for Mr. Littwin to presume he speaks for “us” is immeasurable. You can’t make this stuff up!

    Secondly, Mr. Littwin’s relationship with polls is, well, dubious. He uses polls favorable to his narrative while ignoring the rest. For example:

    – He never tires of reporting how unpopular President Trump is but forgets to mention that Democrats are even less popular. This from Vox:

    “Yet the Democrats face an uphill battle to gaining power again. Trump is unpopular, but he’s more popular than the Democrats. (Sound familiar?) A recent poll has a 40 percent favorable rating for Trump, but only 35 percent for the Democratic Party. An April 2017 poll surprisingly found that Trump would win in a rematch against Clinton. Democrats haven’t gained in popularity or gained in party identification. The Republican Party as a whole hasn’t been this powerful since the 1920s. The Democrats have collapsed in state governments, now controlling only 31 of 98 state legislative chambers. Some rethinking is necessary.”

    – Or this Gallup poll: “In its annual confidence poll, Gallup found that Americans’ trust in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” reached its lowest level in polling history, with only 32 percent saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.”

    So, to recap:

    – President Trump’s approval in Colorado: 38 percent
    – Democrat’s approval nationally: 35 percent
    – Mainstream media’s approval nationally: 32 percent

    You can understand why Mr. Littwin is so selective about polling. How embarrassing is it to be less popular than President Trump?

    Like polling, Mr. Littwin is very selective about who he quotes and when he quotes them. For example The Federalist’s David Harsanyi who is a former colleague of Mr. Littwin’s at the Denver Post. Since leaving the Post his career, unlike other less fortunate former Post employees, has been on an upward trajectory. Mr. Littwin will on occasion quote Mr. Harsanyi especially when he criticizes Senator Gardner.

    Mr. Littwin claims, “(Senator) Gardner, who is already in the Senate leadership and who has hopes of moving up, chose party leaders over 22 million Americans (the number of Americans the CBO estimates would lose their healthcare coverage), over hundreds of thousands of Coloradans.”

    Here’s what Mr. Harsanyi says about that CBO estimate, “You’d think someone would have written a comprehensive factcheck of the Democrats’ lie that 26 million people will “lose” their health insurance due to repeal bills. Six Pinocchios! Who knows? Maybe factcheckers will get around to pointing out that 16 million of the 24 million people Democrats claim will have their coverage snatched away are people who will choose not to buy it in the absence of a penalty. No doubt, factcheckers will point out that around six million or more of those 24 million who will supposedly have their coverage “taken” from them are people the CBO just assumes would have left Obamacare markets anyway. You know, baselines and all.”

    The odds of seeing that David Harsanyi quote in Mr. Littwin’s column are roughly the same as Mr. Littwin winning a Pulitzer. On second thought, he’ll win a Pulitzer first.

    Mr. “I’ve always had a pretty good handle on politics” Littwin still claims not to know how or why President Trump was elected. Well, after reading Mrs. Clinton’s memoir about the 2016 presidential campaign, “What happened”—–a title strongly suggesting she doesn’t know either—–Damon Linker wrote this in The Week:

    “The question is: Why was (the 2016 presidential campaign) so close to begin with?

    And the answer is: Because Hillary Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate who ran an atrocious campaign and should never have been anointed as the presumptive nominee by the Democratic National Committee in the first place.

    If Clinton wanted to run for president while under investigation by the FBI, that was her business. But why on Earth would the DNC and the party’s “superdelegates” decide so far in advance that a candidate running with that kind of baggage should be considered the inevitable victor? Aside from the obstacles it placed in the way of her one serious challenger (Bernie Sanders), it helped to discourage many others (including Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren) from jumping into the race. Why bother when you know the party is standing against you?”

    Mrs. Clinton’s book is sure to appear on Mr. Littwin’s 2017 edition of “The Book List” because it’s full of ready made excuses future Democrat presidential candidates can use and because it was written from a loser’s perspective, a view Mr. Littwin fully understands.

    November 08, 2016

    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner

    Green light a Vet
    Folds of Honor
    Special Operations Warriors Foundation

    Veterans Day – November 11, 2017

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