By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In the end, it was a simple hand gesture – Senator John McCain pointing his right index finger in a downward motion to register a no vote – that ruined his party’s seven-year effort to repeal Obamacare.
But in that signal in the early hours of Friday, the 80-year-old McCain also delivered a political gut-punch to U.S. President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican and a man he has clashed with repeatedly over the past two years.
McCain, who just last week was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer, dropped a hint on Tuesday that if his legislative demands were not met he was prepared to take on Trump in the dispute over how to replace parts of Obamacare with a Republican healthcare program.
“We are not the president’s subordinates. We are his equals,” he said in an emotional speech to the Senate – his first since being diagnosed.
McCain’s relations with Trump have been frosty for some time. At an election campaign appearance in Iowa in 2015, Trump responded to criticism from McCain by denigrating the senator’s military service, which included 5 1/2-years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He was tortured while in captivity and is seen as a war hero by many Americans.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump told a gathering of religious conservatives. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
The following day, Trump said McCain’s work on behalf of military veterans was “all talk no action.”
McCain, a leading Republican voice on defense and security, has generally been restrained in his criticism of Trump but has also at times let loose, including recent accusations that Trump has weakened America’s standing in world affairs and kowtowed to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
With his Friday vote that brought the tally to 51-49 against a Republican bill repealing parts of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, McCain became the third Senate Republican to bolt, leaving no path for…