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McCain says no to GOP's Graham-Cassidy health care bill

In this July 27, 2017, file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, file)

Sen. John McCain declared his opposition Friday to the GOP's last-ditch effort to repeal and replace "Obamacare," dealing a likely death blow to the legislation and, perhaps, to the Republican Party's years of vows to kill the program.

"I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal," McCain said in a statement, referring to the bill by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

"I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried," he said. "Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it."

During a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama on Friday evening, Trump said McCain's decision to vote against the bill was "totally unexpected."

Trump said McCain ran his Senate campaign on "repeal and replace" but "he decided to do something different, and that's fine."

The effort to repeal and replace Obamacare still has a chance, Trump added, saying, "Oh, we're gonna do it eventually."

McCain was the decisive vote against the GOP's last repeal effort, in July. Once again, the 81-year-old senator, battling brain cancer in the twilight of a remarkable career, emerged as the destroyer of his own party's signature promise to voters.

RELATED | Study: Most states would take a hit from GOP health bill

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had both been pushing hard for the bill in recent days, and McCain's best friend in the Senate, Graham, was an author. Trump declared during the presidential campaign that he would quickly demolish Obamacare and "it will be easy."

McCain's announcement likely leaves GOP leaders at least one vote short for the bill, which they had hoped to bring to the floor next week. They face a Sept. 30 deadline for action on the legislation, at which point special rules that prevent a Democratic filibuster will expire.

Democrats are unanimously opposed. GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has announced his opposition and GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Friday she, too, was leaning against supporting the bill.

Along with McCain, that would leave Republicans with only 49 votes for the bill; they would need 50, plus Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie, in order to prevail.

The Graham-Cassidy bill would repeal major pillars of former President Barack Obama's law, replacing them with block grants to states to design their own programs. Major medical groups are opposed, saying millions would lose insurance coverage and protections.

In a press release, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) praised John McCain for demonstrating "courage on behalf of the American people."

She encouraged the Senate to continue its work on a bipartisan solution for Obamacare and called upon House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to "initiate a bipartisan effort in the House to improve and update the Affordable Care Act."

Read McCain's statement in full below:

“As I have repeatedly stressed, health care reform legislation ought to be the product of regular order in the Senate. Committees of jurisdiction should mark up legislation with input from all committee members, and send their bill to the floor for debate and amendment. That is the only way we might achieve bipartisan consensus on lasting reform, without which a policy that affects one-fifth of our economy and every single American family will be subject to reversal with every change of administration and congressional majority.
“I would consider supporting legislation similar to that offered by my friends Senators Graham and Cassidy were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment. But that has not been the case. Instead, the specter of September 30th budget reconciliation deadline has hung over this entire process.
“We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009. If we do so, our success could be as short-lived as theirs when the political winds shift, as they regularly do. The issue is too important, and too many lives are at risk, for us to leave the American people guessing from one election to the next whether and how they will acquire health insurance. A bill of this impact requires a bipartisan approach.
“Senators Alexander and Murray have been negotiating in good faith to fix some of the problems with Obamacare. But I fear that the prospect of one last attempt at a strictly Republican bill has left the impression that their efforts cannot succeed. I hope they will resume their work should this last attempt at a partisan solution fail.
“I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried. Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will effect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full CBO score, which won’t be available by the end of the month, we won’t have reliable answers to any of those questions.
“I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it. The bill’s authors are my dear friends, and I think the world of them. I know they are acting consistently with their beliefs and sense of what is best for the country. So am I.
“I hope that in the months ahead, we can join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to arrive at a compromise solution that is acceptable to most of us, and serves the interests of Americans as best we can.”

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