McCain urges senators to work together on healthcare in fiery speech

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate's defense authorization would set cyber doctrine Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (R-Ariz.) returned to the Senate on Tuesday, urging his colleagues to work together and "trust each other" during his first floor speech since being diagnosed with brain cancer.

“Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle," McCain said from the Senate floor. 

McCain's speech came after a contentious vote to start debate on repealing and replacing ObamaCare. Democrats remained seated and forced Republicans to put up the 50 votes to proceed to the legislation before they started voting. Vice President Pence ultimately cast the tie-breaking vote.

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McCain voted yes on proceeding to the bill, but he said he would oppose the legislation in its current form when it comes time for final passage.

Instead, he urged leadership to throw its weight behind crafting a bipartisan healthcare bill, despite intense pressure from the White House for GOP senators to go it alone and fulfill their yearslong campaign pledge of repealing ObamaCare. 

"Why don’t we try the old way of legislating in the Senate, the way our rules and customs encourage us to act? If this process ends in failure, which seem likely, then let’s return to regular order," McCain said. 

He called the current proposal a "shell of a bill" and said the Senate Health Committee should hold hearings on healthcare legislation.

His remarks came as President Trump and the White House stepped up pressure this week on GOP senators, pushing them to agree to at least start the healthcare debate.

Saying he had "pen in hand," Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning that "after 7 years of talking, we will soon see whether or not Republicans are willing to step up to the plate!" 

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price stood on the side of the Senate chamber as members voted on Tuesday afternoon.

McCain appeared to implicitly counter Trump's advice for Republicans to go it alone in his floor speech, when he said the current strategy didn't appear to be working. 

“We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration ... asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don’t think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn’t," he said. 

Instead of agreeing on a new healthcare policy, McCain said Republicans have "managed to ... make more popular a policy that wasn’t very popular when we started trying to get rid of it." 

McCain's speech is a significant break from the positions of leadership and Trump and is the latest example of the 80-year-old Arizona senator emerging as a chief critic of the president from within the Senate Republican Conference. 

He routinely clashes with the administration on foreign policy and has criticized Trump for not coming out with new policies for Afghanistan. He also cast a surprise vote earlier this year to kill a Trump-favored resolution that would have overturned an Obama-era rule on methane emissions.

McCain's office announced last week that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, which was discovered following surgery to remove a blood clot from above his left eye. McCain noted from the floor that he would be in the Senate "for a few days" before leaving for treatment. 

"I’m going home for a while to treat my illness. I have every intention of returning here and giving many of you cause to regret all the nice things you said about me. And I hope to impress on you again that it is an honor to serve the American people in your company," he said. 

Though senators agreed to move to the House bill, Republicans are still looking at several courses on healthcare reform, including full repeal of ObamaCare, a far narrower repeal and trying to repeal and replace at the same time.