The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How John McCain’s ‘no’ vote on health care played out on the Senate floor

The Senate GOP health care bill failed after three Republicans voted against it (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Sen. John McCain's “no” vote on the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act in the early hours of Friday was a decisive, and somewhat unexpected, vote. It was made all the more dramatic by the fact that it played out on television, right in front of our eyes.

The other two “no” votes on the Republican side of the aisle came from senators who have repeatedly opposed proposals put forth by GOP leadership: Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine). That made McCain the swing vote; if Republicans wanted this to pass, they needed 50 votes, plus a tiebreaker from Vice President Pence. Without those three senators, they only had 49.

McCain arrived on the Senate floor just after midnight, when debate on the “skinny” bill ended.

The drama started when reporters noticed Pence talking to McCain for an extended period of time.

Then, McCain walked over to the Democratic side of the floor, and was seen speaking to Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats.

He got a hug from California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein (in purple).

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) were among the Republicans seen apparently attempting to persuade McCain to change his vote (visible near the top of the frame).

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on July 28 voted against the Republican “skinny repeal” health-care bill. (Video: U.S. Senate)

But when the time came to cast his ballot, McCain was a firm “no.”

Take a look at the body language in the room. Democrats look positively giddy (several audibly gasp, while others clap). Schumer immediately waves at his caucus to stop celebrating.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mitch McConnell looks on with his arms crossed, resigned to defeat, as the rest of the GOP leadership team stands silently. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) lets his head drop.

With a decisive thumbs-down, McCain sunk the “skinny repeal” effort.