Remember the Ladies:
Murkowski & Collins are the real heroes in health care vote
“If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Abigail Adams, 1776
With all due respect to Senator John McCain of Arizona, his vote didn’t swing the health care decision — the “ladies” did.
The “no” votes of Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska anchored the defeat of the GOP’s repeated efforts to kill the Obamacare. They made it safe for McCain to literally give a thumbs-down and cast the decisive — and what many are calling a “courageous” — vote against repealing the American Care Act.
Without the lead of the “ladies,” would his vote have been the same? I’m betting not. But I am betting that both Collins or Murkowski would have voted against the “skinny repeal” and its two earlier iterations regardless of whether a third senator joined their effort. The two women, especially Collins, demonstrated their consistent, values-oriented approach to legislation that puts the needs of their constituents ahead of the demands of their party.
One reason McCain’s vote was so dramatic — and he milked it, striding into the Chamber to stand face-to-face with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as he voted with the universal gesture of disapproval — is that his recent history has been one of inconsistency. To put it bluntly, he’s talked a lot about integrity, bipartisanship, civility and “regular order,” but then voted the party line almost every time.
In a plot worthy of Game of Thrones, McCain let suspense build over the days before the final vote. The drama was thickened by his diagnosis of brain cancer a week earlier; he flew in a week after surgery to vote, stitches arcing over his left eyebrow. He eloquently chastised the Senate on Tuesday for the chaos, secrecy and partisanship surrounding the GOP health care efforts. “We aren’t getting anything done,” he finished.
Given his history, though, the chances of him casting a “no” vote seemed slim. Vice President Pence was on hand to break the 50–50 tie expected due to the “no” votes of Collins and Murkowski. Instead, he could be seen soliciting McCain’s vote up to the minute the senator was called from the Chamber to take a phone call — which gave McCain the opportunity to walk back in a few minutes later and cast that telegenic “thumbs down.”
Collins and Murkowski, by contrast, were transparent in their deliberations and stalwart in their conviction that the interest of their constituents — not their voters, their constituents — must come first. Each voted three times against the party’s healthcare plans, the only two Republican senators to do so. They were joined in the first vote by seven others, in the second by five others, including McCain.
Neither one appeared to be quivering with indecision in the hours and days leading to the final vote. Neither anguished publicly. They were, apparently, able to assess the pros and cons of the skimpy legislation and come to a decision despite tremendous pressure from GOP leadership and President Trump, who alternately tried to entice or bully either one — but especially Murkowski — to change their vote.
When Trump’s Twitter-shaming didn’t budge Murkowski, the president’s Interior Secretary tacitly threatened in a phone call that she was putting federal projects in Alaska at risk if she voted against the bill. Murkowski flicked him away like a dead beetle, abruptly canceling confirmation hearings for several appointments to the Interior Department.
Neither woman is a grandstander. Their remarks, both before and after the decisive votes, were succinct.
“The ACA is flawed and in portions of the country is near collapse. Rather than engage in partisan exercises, Republicans and Democrats should work together to address these very serious problems,” said Collins, who is inevitably at the center of any attempt in the Senate to reach bipartisan consensus.
As for Murkowski, she attended a last-ditch White House lunch intended to galvanize Republican senators. “With all due respect, Mr. President,” Murkowsi told Trump, “I didn’t come here to represent the Republican Party. I am representing my constituents and the state of Alaska.”
“They have steel spines,” said GOP strategist Ana Navarro, speaking of Collins and Murkowski. “The don’t give in to bullying.”
In other words — McConnell’s words in another context — Murkowski and Collins violated the rule of party loyalty. They were warned. They were given explanations. Nevertheless, they persisted.