(WASHINGTON) — With Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie, the Senate voted by a hair Tuesday to start debating Republican legislation to tear down much of the Obama health care law. The vote gives President Donald Trump and GOP leaders a crucial initial victory but launches a weeklong debate promising an uncertain final outcome.
The 51-50 vote kept alive hopes of delivering on promises that countless Republican candidates have campaigned on for years — repealing President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul. It also averted what would have been a blistering defeat for a party divided between fervent conservatives demanding the evisceration of Obama’s statute and centrists intent on not pulling coverage away from millions of Americans.
Pence presided over the Senate during the vote, which began after dozens of protesters shouted “Kill the bill” and “Shame” from the chamber’s visitors’ gallery.
Enhancing the day’s theatrics, one pivotal “yes” vote was cast by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who flew to the Capitol just days after revealing he’d been diagnosed with brain cancer and was home considering the next steps in his treatment. With Republicans wielding a narrow 52-48 majority, the 80-year-old’s appearance let Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., lose two GOP senators and still prevail — wiggle room that would have shrunk to just one in McCain’s absence.
McCain entered the chamber 29 minutes into the roll call to a standing ovation from members of both parties and visitors watching from above. Smiling, he exchanged embraces with McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and others, then cast his “yes” vote with two thumbs up.