Amid a politically explosive day, the Senate rejected a repeal-only health care measure on Wednesday, signaling another defeat in the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The 45-55 vote was cast largely along party lines, save for seven Republican senators who voted against it — Sens. John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, Dean Heller, Shelley Moore Capito, Lamar Alexander, Rob Portman, and Susan Collins — and that was enough to kill the GOP's repeal-now, replace-later plan.
Their "no" votes signaled that the so-called "clean repeal" bill did not have the support from key Republican senators. The party's hardline conservatives favored a bill to repeal Obamacare — Sen. Rand Paul introduced the amendment — within two years, and come up with a replacement plan in the meantime.
But observers sent grave warnings about removing the revolutionary health care law without replacing it with something else; earlier in July, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that a repeal-without-replace measure would cause 32 million Americans to lose health coverage by 2026.
The proposal the Senate shot down on Wednesday would have gutted the individual and employer mandates, end Medicaid expansion — one of the most contentious parts of the bill — and roll back many of the ACA's taxes.
The GOP's failure to repeal and replace Obamacare since becoming the majority party has been described as an abject embarrassment for many Republican lawmakers, as well as President Trump. As the opposition party during President Obama's two terms, the GOP made unending calls for the death of Obamacare for seven years and House Republicans voted to kill it in some way or another more than 50 times since it was passed in 2009.
Now with a majority in Congress and a Republican president in the White House, the party has repeatedly failed to pass a repeal-and-replace bill despite it being their top priority in 2017.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted to debate the health care bill with Vice President Mike Pence casting yet another tie-breaking vote. The vote on the motion to proceed caused confusion outside the Senate, and that sentiment was particularly strong when McCain — who rushed back to Washington, D.C. in the midst of his cancer treatment for the vote — gave an impassioned speech on the floor in which he declared he will not vote for the bill "as it is today," then said aye on the motion to proceed.
Later that evening, McCain voted for the very bill he said he would not. Nine Republican senators, however, did vote against the comprehensive replacement measure on Tuesday evening.
Six months in and the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare has yet to move forward. But if history is anything to go by, the party's latest failure to pass the clear repeal measure will not deter Republicans from trying again — the same way the Senate's health care bill's deep unpopularity, the slew of protests against repealing Obamacare, and the barrage of calls to their offices have not.