On Tuesday afternoon, after weeks of back-and-forth drama, the Senate finally conducted the initial procedural vote necessary to get the ball rolling on the House-passed bill that would repeal and replace the current health care law. The Senate voted Tuesday to proceed with a debate on the controversial legislation, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote in favor of the debate.
Before roll call was taken, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged his fellow senators to vote in favor of debating the healthcare repeal bill. "They didn't send us here to do the easy stuff. They sent us to tackle the big problems,” he said.
Sen. John McCain, who voted in favor of the debate, flew back to Washington D.C. for the vote after being diagnosed with brain cancer last week, heightening the drama surrounding the GOP's repeal-and-replace effort. The only two Republicans to defect from the GOP camp were Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
The Democrats, all of whom voted against the motion to proceed, abstained in the initial vote so that they could all vote together as a block. "I would plead one last time with my friends on the other side of the aisle," Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said before the vote. "Turn back. We can go through regular order. We want to work with you. We know the ACA isn't perfect. But we also know what you proposed is much worse."
Prior to the vote, protestors in the hall of the Capitol building began loudly chanting: "Kill the bill! Don't kill us!" And then, after what seemed liked several minutes: "Shame!"
In the lead-up to the procedural vote, President Donald Trump urged GOP senators to vote in favor of the motion to proceed, citing Republicans' oft-made promise to repeal the ACA.
"Big day for HealthCare. After 7 years of talking, we will soon see whether or not Republicans are willing to step up to the plate!" the president tweeted on Tuesday morning. "This will be a very interesting day for HealthCare," the president later added on Twitter. "The Dems are obstructionists but the Republicans can have a great victory for the people!"
With the procedural motion passed, senators will now begin to debate multiple proposals that would repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, including the House-passed American Health Care Act and also a repeal-only measure that would give legislators two years to devise a replacement from the ACA.