John McCain makes dramatic return to Senate for health vote

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John McCain (R-Ariz.) is returning to the Senate on Tuesday to vote on GOP healthcare legislation just days after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

“Senator McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea,” McCain’s office said on Monday evening.

McCain was absent last week after having surgery to remove a blood clot from above his left eye, which then revealed his cancer.

McCain’s vote could be crucial to the GOP effort to start the debate on healthcare, and GOP leadership has been eager for him to return.

“I’d personally volunteer to rent an RV and road trip,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said earlier Monday to reporters, when asked if McCain would be able to come back this week.

Republicans are expected to vote to take up the House-passed American Health Care Act on Tuesday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will need 50 of the Senate’s 52 Republicans to vote yes on the motion to proceed.

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If McCain hadn’t returned, McConnell could only afford to lose one GOP senator on the initial hurdle. With McCain back, he can afford to lose two GOP senators and still let Vice President Pence break a tie.

McCain’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on how he would vote on the initial procedural motion.

But McCain called late last week for his conference to go back to the drawing board and send a healthcare bill through “regular order.”

“The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care,” he said in a statement last week.

McConnell sparked speculation Monday evening that McCain would be returning soon when he teed up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual bill McCain crafts as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But it was unclear earlier Monday if he would return for the chamber’s action on healthcare.

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Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, had said that McCain was trying to get approval from his doctor to return to Washington, though Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he didn’t “expect” McCain to return.

McCain’s office had kept a tight lid on when he could return, but two Senate aides said earlier Monday that they expected him to be present for the motion to proceed vote.

Leadership had indicated that they wanted to wait until McCain returned to the Senate to try to move the NDAA.

The 80-year-old senator signaled last week that he wanted to return to the Senate soon and dialed into a call GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) held late last week with governors on healthcare.

McCain’s diagnosis sparked a wave of support from colleagues in both parties, including former political opponents.

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But Kelli Ward, who is hoping to unseat Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) next year, faced backlash after she called on McCain to resign and pitched herself as a replacement.

“I hope that Sen. McCain is going to look long and hard at this, that his family and his advisers are going to look at this, and they’re going to advise him to step away as quickly as possible,” Ward told an Indiana radio station this week.

Under Arizona law, the governor would be able to appoint someone to fill McCain’s seat until the 2018 midterm elections if he decided to step down.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) ripped Ward — who had previously offered her condolences for McCain and his family — saying “[people] like her aren’t welcome in the US Sen.”

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