WASHINGTON — Over the sound of protesters crying “kill the bill,” 50 Republican senators cast their votes to begin debate to repeal Obamacare on a razor-thin margin Tuesday afternoon. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer — cast the 49th “yes” vote after making a dramatic entrance back to the Capitol, greeted by applause from his colleagues.
Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote to begin the debate. No Democrats backed the measure.
Though the motion to proceed is a victory for Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, McCain gave a speech directly afterward the vote that threw cold water on the chances that Senate Republicans would emerge in the next few days with a bill that overhauls the nation’s health care system.
“I will not vote for the bill as it is today,” McCain said. “It’s a shell of a bill right now; we all know that.”
He urged McConnell to return to the “old ways of the Senate” — letting senators craft a replacement bill in the regular, bipartisan committee system instead of entirely behind closed doors.
McConnell managed to flip a handful of holdout senators who expressed deep skepticism about the procedural vote and who nearly killed the repeal-and-replace debate altogether two weeks ago. Of about eight of those senators, only Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted against starting debate Tuesday. The rest of the caucus fell into line, including Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who is up for reelection next year in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
But now McConnell faces the daunting task of getting 50 of his members to agree on an actual bill — a project he’s had trouble with so far.
The senators will hold votes on a “clean repeal” of Obamacare that would begin in two years, as well as an updated version of repeal-and-replace that has not been released publicly. They also may vote on a “skinny” version of repeal that would solely…