WASHINGTON — At the twilight of a storied career and battling a brain tumor, Sen. John McCain stands poised to deliver for his party and his president on the issue that’s defined the GOP for the past seven years.
It’s a situation heavy with drama and symbolism. The 80-year-old Arizona senator will return to Washington just days after a cancer diagnosis, to cast what could be the deciding vote Tuesday to open debate on legislation to repeal and replace “Obamacare.”
McCain himself campaigned heavily on the “Obamacare” repeal issue last year as he won re-election to a sixth and almost certainly final Senate term. And there could be sweet revenge in defying cancer to undo the signature legislation of the man who beat him for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama.
The Arizona senator would also deliver a key victory to President Donald Trump, despite emerging as one of the president’s most outspoken GOP critics on Capitol Hill. During last year’s campaign Trump shockingly ridiculed McCain over his years as a POW during the Vietnam War.
And the situation was eerily reminiscent of a similar scenario involving McCain’s good friend, the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who returned to the Senate in July 2008 while battling brain cancer to vote on Medicare legislation, his dramatic entry in the chamber eliciting cheers and applause. Kennedy died of cancer in August 2009.
The possibility of McCain returning had been discussed around the Capitol on Monday, yet the press release from his office late in the day came as a surprise. Nor did it guarantee success on Tuesday’s vote for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is managing a balky GOP caucus with almost no room for error in the closely divided Senate.
“Senator McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea,” his office said.
McCain has not been overly enthusiastic about the GOP health bill or the partisan process through which it’s emerged. After an earlier version was poised to fail, he called on McConnell to reopen the process with a bipartisan approach, advice the majority leader ignored.
But McCain’s best friend in the Senate Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and other colleagues who’ve spoken with McCain of late, say he’s been itching to get back to the Senate, impatient to return to work. And he’s expected to support McConnell and Trump and vote to move forward with the GOP health bill.
“I have a feeling if there’s any way he can be back he’ll be here, whether or not his doctors like it, knowing John,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said earlier Monday.
And sure enough, he will.
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.