A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction…This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together. “Farewell Address to the Nation” January 17, 1961 President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Failure to repeal Obamacare was a huge fail for the Republican Party. It’s easy and somewhat popular in certain circles to ascribe primary and ultimate blame for this fail on the President. To be sure, the White House handled the lawmaking process poorly and in some cases, terribly. But for all of that, at the end of the day a bill calling for repeal did make it to the floor for a vote. It failed by one vote.
A careful reading of the news both before and after that vote appears to point to a transactional betrayal by Sen. John McCain R-AZ. Some of the evidence is factual, some is circumstantial, but there does appear to be a smoking gun which could be interpreted as collusion with Sen. Chuck Schumer D-NY. The facts and circumstances lay out like A-B-C.
In early July, the Senate was struggling with healthcare while the House approved a huge funding increase for 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. (Independent)
The National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) would allocate $696bn for defence spending in fiscal year 2018, blowing past Mr Trump’s requested $603bn budget – a budget the White House had previously touted as a “historic increase in defence spending”. The proposal also exceeds long-standing caps on defence spending in Congress. Since 2011, the legislature has capped its defence spending at $549 billion. For the new funding plan to work, Congress would need to strike a deal to increase or repeal those caps.
The bill then moved to the Senate: (Independent)
The bill now moves to the Senate, where the Armed Services Committee has already passed its version of the legislation. The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill later this year.
The Chairman of the Armed Services Committee? None other than John McCain. The final tab for the annual defense appropriation was around $700 billion, and the senior senator from Arizona fully expected to take it to the floor for a vote, and shepherd it through the approval process. Given that fact that both the White House and true conservative senators were opposed to the price tag, Senator McConnell made it clear he expected McCain to shepherd it through the final floor voting process.
Then tragedy struck. Sen. McCain was diagnosed with cancer, which necessitated his return to Phoenix for treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Given the complications of senate scheduling, it appeared the NDAA bill was going to be delayed until the fall: (Washington Examiner)
McCain is planning to return to Washington after Senate’s August recess. His office indicated the Armed Services chairman will continue working remotely, meaning he could stay involved in the details of the NDAA process such as preparing for conference negotiations with the House after the Senate passes its version of the bill. But the chairman is unable to represent the bill on the Senate floor from Arizona, which is the job of the Armed Services chairman. Senate Republican leaders have signaled they won’t advance the bill in McCain’s absence.
Sen. McCain knew this appropriation would require careful strategy: (Washington Examiner)
The Arizona senator’s committee has proposed a big hike in its $700 billion bill but Senate appropriators, who actually write spending legislation, are proposing to stick closely to much lower 2018 funding caps imposed by the Budget Control Act, Cancian said. That has created an $80 billion difference in proposed defense spending in the chamber, he said. Lawmakers may try to hammer out an overarching budget deal later this year that includes some defense spending figure within that range. “McCain’s strategy has been to get on the boards first and to drive the discussion,” Cancian said. “I think that was his strategy with the NDAA, that he would get it passed quickly and his higher number would be in there and then everyone else could react to that.” If the NDAA is delayed until the fall, Senate appropriators could get their lower spending proposal passed first and make McCain “much less relevant,” he said. (Emphasis added)
This uncertainty provided the impetus for the senator to attempt to bring it up for a vote before he left for treatment: (Washington Examiner)
Just before he left, McCain tried to bring the bill to a floor vote after returning to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a few days of work, but was first blocked by the Democrats over the Obamacare debate.
At the time it didn’t seem strange that Sen. Schumer and Company had blocked the floor vote, by then they were obstructing all things Republican. Which makes it even more curious when later on, they appeared ready to support it.
Bear in mind, during this process President Trump and the Republican senate were scrambling to find a final solution to Obamacare. After many iterations, Skinny Repeal seemed to be the one solution that could capture enough votes for passage.
Meanwhile, Sen. McCain had returned to Phoenix for surgery, which evidently was successful. Following that surgery, McCain had a few days free to return to the nation’s capital to vote on whatever healthcare bill Sen. McConnell was able to get to the floor. His return was predicated on one issue, the Majority Leader had to agree to bring the NDAA immediately following the healthcare vote while McCain was still in DC. (Daily Caller)
As CNN noted, the fact that McCain is leaving Monday helps to explain why GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell would let the NDAA vote occur in the midst of a heated debated on health care reform.
During the final days leading up to the fateful Skinny Repeal vote, it became evident Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Collins would be a nay vote. The unknown was how Sen. McCain would vote. What was known was the curious way in which he spent his time: (WaPo)
Schumer had apparently been working McCain for days. The Hill’s Peter Sullivan: “Schumer says he’s been talking to McCain four to five times a day for three or four days.” (Emphasis added)
Obviously Sen. McCain knew he had no chance of turning Schumer & Co into a yes vote for the Skinny Repeal legislation. Ironclad party dogma is always a no vote on Obamacare repeal. Given that obvious fact, why was Mr. McCain meeting so often with Chuck during this turbulent time, especially since McCain had such a small window of time in DC and whipping Republican votes for the defense bill should have been his first priority.
Or was it? By now, it was apparent the White House wasn’t happy with McCain and the level of his NDAA funding appropriation. A presidential veto was a distinct possibility. Reversing that veto would require a 2/3rd majority by both Houses of Congress. A great way to head off that potential veto would be to garner more than that necessary 2/3rd vote for the initial vote, sending a message to the President. “Don’t veto this, We have the votes to override your veto.”
But in order for that strategy to be successful, McCain needed Schumer and Pelosi to bring in enough Democratic votes to achieve the veto override vote total. What was the quid pro quo? Senator McCain’s actions and words on the day of the vote appear to show the quid to Schumer’s quo. Simply put, McCain votes no on the Skinny Repeal, then Schumer and party support McCain’s NDAA vote.
Finally, July 27 arrives, the day Sen. McConnell had scheduled votes on healthcare. Not even McCain’s allies knew what he was going to do: (Politico)
Senators had no idea where McCain would land throughout much of Thursday, saying he vacillated in his position as the chaotic day unfolded. They had heard rumblings of three “nos” as early as Thursday afternoon, and one Republican insisted that the GOP could have secured McCain’s support had the vote been held earlier in the day.Many entered the chamber for a vote, unprepared for what would happen. “I thought he was a ‘yes’ and had been told he was a ‘yes’ when I came to the floor,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) recalled in an interview early Friday morning.
Early in the morning, a bit before 1:30 a.m., McCain finally voted (Politico)
Friday, McCain strode to the well of the Senate, and gestured his hand downward to vote “no.” Stunned gasps echoed throughout the chamber.
This fact has to be noted: John McCain is a party loyalist and wouldn’t take this vote lightly. Obviously he knew the significance of his no vote. Obviously he knew how important this was to Republican leadership, men and women who were and are his friends. It is almost unthinkable he would cast the deciding vote against his party purely because of animus against the President, or due to his overarching concern about healthcare legislation.
As a matter of fact, Mr. McCain’s actions prior to his vote and immediately thereafter seem to prove he knew exactly what he was doing. Prior to the vote: (Politico)
McCain walked over to a gaggle of Senate Democrats and told them that he would be voting no on the Obamacare repeal measure.
Why would McCain tip the opposition to his voting decision? His comment is a clue:(Politico)
McCain walked over to a gaggle of Senate Democrats and told them that he would be voting no on the Obamacare repeal measure. His mind had already sped ahead to what was next: the National Defense Authorization Act, a top priority for the Armed Services Committee chairman. “Let’s get this over with,” McCain told the cluster of Democrats, according to senators. “I really want to do NDAA.” McCain embraced Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
“Let’s get this over with”?
“Let’s” as in let us. Or to paraphrase: “Let us get this thing we’ve agreed upon over with.” This seems to smack of a previously agreed upon compromise. Quid meet quo.
After his no vote, his compadres celebrated: (WaPo)
But when the time came to cast his ballot, McCain was a firm “no.” Take a look at the body language in the room. Democrats look positively giddy (several audibly gasp, while others clap). Schumer immediately waves at his caucus to stop celebrating.
But quo never met quid. Amusingly enough, like a phoenix arising from the libertarian ashes, he put the kibosh to the best laid plans: (Daily Caller)
GOP Sen. John McCain criticized GOP Sen. Rand Paul for blocking the annual defense budget bill from moving forward for a quick vote Friday, as now McCain is expected to leave for cancer treatment Monday. Although the National Defense Authorization Act was a key item on the agenda for McCain, Paul stepped in to block the bill by requesting two amendments be added to the legislation, namely one on prohibiting indefinite detention and one on the authorization of the use of military force to fight the Islamic State.
Sen. McCain is back where he started:
The Senate NDAA is now likely to be pushed back as far as September.
This viewpoint concerning John McCain’s Skinny Repeal vote is admittedly circumstantial. However, it beggars the mind to come up with any other viable solution for McCain’s duplicitous betrayal of the party and his friends. It is well known the senator is a cats paw to the military complex, always conflating his NeoCon worldview with the absolute necessity for more defense funding.
While the “thumbs down” gesture was the knife in Trump’s back, the vote wasn’t. It was either a vote of conscience as Mr. McCain insist, or an act of brazen betrayal in servitude of his true masters. Fortunately, in the end, the voters get to decide. I know I have.