Pence Breaks Tie, Senate Takes Up Health Bill

Sen. John McCain Returns To Washington To Cast Crucial Vote

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Senate has voted to move ahead on health care legislation aimed at dismantling “Obamacare.”

The vote was 51-50 on Tuesday, a victory for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump. Last week, McConnell was forced to postpone the vote, lacking the support of conservatives and moderates.

Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote.

As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported, it’s important to emphasize that this was not a vote on a healthcare bill, it was only a vote to begin debate on a healthcare bill, and it just barely passed.

The vote sets up days of debate and votes on repealing and replacing Barack Obama’s health care law. Whatever the Senate approves still requires a vote in the House.

In a dramatic turn, Sen. John McCain returned from Arizona where he is battling brain cancer to cast a crucial vote on proceeding on health care.

Applause and whoops greeted McCain as he entered the chamber. The 80-year-old Arizona senator  returned to the Capitol for the first time since his diagnosis.

“So many people have said nice things about me that I think some of you have me confused with somebody,” McCain said.

He then delivered a stirring appeal to bipartisan unity.

“We are not getting anything done, we are not getting anything done. What have we to lose, to work together to find those solutions?” he said.

Two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted against the bill, but after massive pressure from the White House, other wavering GOP senators voted yes.

On Monday, President Donald Trump had said the Senate must take action.

“Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare which is what it is,” Trump said.

He kept up the pressure Tuesday, tweeting “Big day for HealthCare. After 7 years of talking, we will soon see whether or not Republicans are willing to step up to the plate!”

“ObamaCare is torturing the American People.The Democrats have fooled the people long enough. Repeal or Repeal & Replace! I have pen in hand,” Trump added.

Trump said he was pleased with the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.

“We had two Republicans that went against us, I think it’s sad, it’s very sad for them, but I’m very very happy with the result. I believe we come up with a plan that will be really, really wonderful for the American people,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke strongly against the GOP health care bill Tuesday afternoon.

“Anyone who votes to send this vote to conference is almost certainly voting to kick millions off healthcare, to make it much harder to get coverage if you have a preexsiting condition, to slash Medicaid ad give a huge amount of tax cuts to the rich,” Schumer said. “Make no mistake about it — that’s what they’re doing, and that’s what they know they’re doing.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio called on New Yorkers to fight against the GOP health care bill on Tuesday.

“We have come to the moment of truth. Republicans are voting to take health care from millions of Americans. The only thing that can stop them is millions of Americans standing up and raising their voices,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Let Congress know they cannot send us back to a time when families were forced to choose between going to the doctor and feeding their kids – not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”

A comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare was put up for a vote and lost badly, 43 to 57.

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 Trump, despite emerging as one of the president’s most outspoken GOP critics on Capitol Hill.

Trump said it’s “so great” that McCain is returning to Washington to vote, describing the move as “brave” and the senator as an “American hero.” During the 2016 campaign, Trump questioned McCain’s status as a war hero, saying, “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

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.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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