John McCain won’t back Graham-Cassidy bill, likely ending GOP health care push

(CNN) — Sen. John McCain announced Friday in a statement that he cannot “in good conscience” vote for the GOP’s latest plan to overhaul Obamacare, likely ending Republicans’ latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal,” the Arizona Republican said in a statement. “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 (affect) 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.”

McCain’s “no” vote makes it very likely Republicans won’t be able to repeal and replace Obamacare before September 30, as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he would not back the effort and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is also expected to vote “no” on the proposal.

Republicans need at least 50 votes to pass the measure under the process of reconciliation.

McCain was one of three most-watched members on the fence and considered a key vote on the bill. Without his support, Republicans would need to get Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, as well as Collins to sign on. It’s unlikely considering the fact that Collins said Friday afternoon that she was leaning against the bill and had key concerns that the legislation did not do enough to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions.

“I’m leaning against the bill,” Collins said Friday at a Portland, Maine, event, according to The Portland Press Herald.

A Republican aide involved in the process said Friday afternoon that GOP leaders are at the “evaluating options” stage right now.

The aide added, “I’m not breaking news telling you this isn’t good.”

Paul, the only other Republican other than McCain who has so far definitively come out against Graham-Cassidy, is “unlikely” to change his mind even if changes are made to the bill, his spokesman Sergio Gor told CNN.

McCain’s announcement comes despite that one of the bill’s key sponsors — Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — is a close confidant. The thinking was if anyone could convince McCain to vote “yes,” it would be Graham.

“I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it,” McCain said. “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.”

McCain has said for weeks that he would not support health care legislation that had not gone through “regular order,” meaning Senate hearings, an amendment process and a rigorous floor debate.

Graham said he “respectfully” disagrees with McCain and will “press on” with his legislation.

“My friendship with John McCain is not based on how he votes but respect for how he’s lived his life and the person he is,” Graham said in a statement and on Twitter.

McCain voted “no” on the last health care proposal in July for the same reason. McCain’s dramatic floor vote, which happened just weeks after he was diagnosed with brain cancer, came in the early morning and was captured as one of his most “maverick” moments in the Senate.

Democrats praise McCain

Just moments after McCain announced his opposition, Democrats seized on the opportunity to bring back bipartisan talks that had stalled last week.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee had held bipartisan hearings over the last month on how to stabilize Obamacare marketplaces and were making progress in their negotiations. But the House leadership made it clear last week that the chamber probably would not be able to pass such a bill.

As soon as McCain announced his opposition, Murray announced she was still open to reigniting those talks.

“I agree with Senator McCain that the right way to get things done in the Senate — especially on an issue as important to families as their health care — is through regular order and working together to find common ground,” Murray said. “I’m still at the table ready to keep working, and I remain confident that we can reach a bipartisan agreement as soon as this latest partisan approach by Republican leaders is finally set aside.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also praised McCain shortly after his announcement.

“John McCain shows the same courage in Congress that he showed when he was a naval aviator,” the New York Democrat said in a statement. “I have assured Senator McCain that as soon as repeal is off the table, we Democrats are intent on resuming the bipartisan process.”

For her part, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said her members would continue working “to put the stake in the heart of this monstrous bill.”

“This weekend, we will continue to highlight the devastating costs Republicans are trying to inflict on hard-working Americans,” she said in a letter to colleagues.