By Jeffry Bartash, MarketWatch
Sen. John McCain, the former Navy pilot, has never been afraid to fly solo politically.
The veteran Republican senator on Friday killed off a conservative attempt to terminate Obamacare, a law McCain has repeatedly criticized.
His reason had more to do with style than substance. The 80-year-old McCain is a pre-social media, old-fashioned lawmaker: He insists fellow Republicans should not make the same mistake as Democrats by jamming a partisan bill through Congress.
McCain was lionized by relieved Democrats and castigated by angry Trump supporters, but he doesn’t care. The former prisoner of war tortured in Vietnam has dealt with more brutal opponents before and he’s got bigger problems to address, such as a malignant brain tumor.
It’s that go-it-alone-if-have-to approach — all too rare in Congress — that once earned the 2008 presidential candidate the moniker of a “maverick.”
Make no mistake, though. McCain does not like Obamacare. He’s repeatedly backed efforts to undo the health-care law passed by Democrats in 2010 without a single Republican vote.
“From the beginning, I have believed that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a solution that increases competition, lowers costs, and improves care for the American people,” McCain said in a statement after he cast the deciding vote to defeat a Republican alternative known as “skinny repeal.”
Yet McCain has also grown increasingly frustrated by the intense partisanship in Washington that’s created so much rancor among Democrats and Republicans they rarely cross party lines on key votes.
In a dramatic speech on Tuesday, McCain tore into both parties for their unwillingness to reach out to each other.
“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,’ he said.
The speech was all the more poignant because McCain had just returned from Arizona after surgery, a line of stitches running over his left eye where doctors had entered to remove the cancerous tumor.
McCain demonstrated his independence and regard for process during this week’s dramatic Senate showdown on Obamacare.
He provided the key vote to allow debate on a Republican repeal of Obamacare, earning an outpouring of scorn from liberals who once praised him. But then he caste the vote to end what he considered a political charade, drawing the ire of Obamacare critics including Trump.
The likelihood of McCain’s reversing his vote, if history is a guide, is nil. Once he digs in, he sticks to his position.
He said he still wants to replace Obamacare, but he’s demanded his party hold regular hearings in Congress and work with Democrats. Obamacare has not been a rousing political success for Democrats, and there are areas in which they might be willing to work with Republicans.
“What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions? We’re not getting much done apart,” McCain said Tuesday.
Call him a process conservative. McCain wants to return to the old ways of doing business in the Senate.
Lofty words and an admirable goal, but don’t count on Congress to follow his lead. The divisions are just too deep — and not just between the two parties. Republicans in Congress are also very divided.
The White House was not much help, either. After years of criticizing McCain on Twitter and elsewhere — even ridiculing the idea he’s a war hero — Trump had no reserve of goodwill to draw upon when he spoke to McCain shortly before he voted nay.
Trump’s recent attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former senator, has caused further harm to his relationship with Senate Republicans.
Slapping the hands of lawmakers whose votes are desperately needed is not the path to legislative victory.