Senate Republicans have voted to begin a debate on their plan to repeal and replace the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act. The dramatic vote marked the return of GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona to the chamber and was swamped with protesters urging Republican lawmakers not to repeal the health care laws. It remains unclear whether an ACA repeal will ultimately pass.
On July 25, Republican Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky held a vote for the chamber to begin a debate on the House's American Health Care Act. This vote is known as a "motion to proceed."
In the vote, 50 of the 52 Senate Republicans voted in favor of the motion to proceed, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote to advance the legislation to debate. Senate Democrats were unified in their opposition to the motion. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also voted against the motion.
The debate process would not consider the AHCA but instead insert language from a new health care proposal. Senate Republicans' original legislation, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, failed to garner enough GOP support a week earlier. When McConnell held the vote for a motion to proceed, senators did not know which bill would be considered during the debate process, The Atlantic reports.
Protesters filled the chamber urging Senate Republicans to vote against the motion, chanting, "Kill the Bill!"
McCain, who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, arrived to the chamber from the hospital and voted in support of debate. Following the vote, McCain blasted how McConnell had arranged the vote.
"We try to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them that it's better than nothing... Asking us to swallow our doubts and force it passed a unified opposition," McCain said. "I don't think that's going to work in the end, and probably shouldn't."
The Arizona senator added, "I will not vote for this bill as it is today."
Several Republican lawmakers who had been highly critical of their party's health care replacement plan voted in favor of a motion to proceed. GOP Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Dean Heller of Nevada and Rob Portman of Ohio all cast a vote in favor of debate despite voicing grave concerns about the AHCA and the BCRA, The New York Times reports.
"I remain committed to reforming our healthcare system while also addressing the concerns I have voiced for months," Capito said in a statement.
Heller stated that he voted for a motion to proceed in the hopes it would help "address the unworkable aspects of the law that have left many Nevadans -- particularly those living in rural areas -- with dwindling or no choices."
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein vowed that his organization would use Heller's vote against him during the 2018 midterm elections.
"His deciding vote today ... will be one of his last," Bergstein said, according to The Hill.
Following the vote, President Donald Trump stated during a press conference that he was "extremely happy."
"We're going to come up with a plan that's really, really wonderful for the American people," Trump said, according to NPR.
That same day, a Politico/Morning Consult survey found that only 31 percent of registered voters wanted Senate Republicans to continue their efforts to repeal the ACA while 41 percent wanted them to pivot to legislation to improve the current health care law, Politico reports.