If Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) goal was to play a consequential role in the fight over health care, he's succeeded beautifully.
Two months ago, it was the Arizona Republican who cast a dramatic deciding vote that derailed his party's repeal push. Two weeks ago, it was McCain who seemed to throw a lifeline to the repeal crusade, telling reporters he was prepared to support the Graham-Cassidy proposal.
And this afternoon, it was the veteran lawmaker who announced his opposition to the Graham-Cassidy plan, effectively sealing its fate.
"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."
McCain added that he'd consider a bill like Graham-Cassidy "were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment," but that hasn't happened.
Let no one say he didn't warn us this would happen. As recently as two days ago, McCain told reporters, "Nothing has changed. If McConnell wants to put it on the floor, that's up to McConnell. I am the same as I was before. I want the regular order." Two days earlier, the Arizona Republican said, "I'm not the one that waited nine months to bring up an issue. And we just went through that last fiasco. It's not my problem that we only have those few days left."
I guess he wasn't kidding.
So where does that leave us? With 52 Senate Republicans, the party can only lose two of its own members. McCain, as of this afternoon is, one.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been insisting for over a week that he's also a "no" -- I spoke to Paul's office this week, and an aide confirmed he's a "solid" no -- and as recently as this morning, the Kentucky senator added that he "won't be bribed or bullied" into supporting Grahan-Cassidy.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), meanwhile, has opposed practically every ACA repeal effort for quite a while, and the Maine Republican conceded this morning she's "leaning" against her party's latest gambit.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) plans to take the weekend to think about it, but under the circumstances, few observers believe she'll vote with her far-right colleagues on such a radical proposal.
In other words, GOP leaders can only afford to lose two votes, and it appears they're likely to lose four. If that's the case, don't be surprised if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) simply pulls the bill from the schedule next week and the endeavor quietly goes away ahead of its Sept. 30 deadline.
This isn't to say the fight is completely over. Maybe Rand Paul will change his mind. Maybe there will be some dramatic change to the legislation that makes it more palatable to the GOP moderates. It's an unpredictable environment, and health care advocates would be wise to keep the champagne on ice until 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 1.
But for now, McCain's announcement makes it appears as if the right is going to lose this round. The veteran lawmaker's principles are intact, after all.