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John McCain's blood clot has stalled Trumpcare indefinitely

by Alex Thompson
Jul 17 2017, 7:32am

Trumpcare has stalled and Republican leaders don’t know when they’ll be able to restart it.

The Republican Party’s seven-year quest to repeal and replace Obamacare took another unexpected turn this past weekend with the announcement that Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona underwent a “craniotomy” to remove a five-centimeter blood clot above his left eye and would be out for some time. McCain’s office released a statement that the 80-year-old senator would be recovering at home in Arizona for at least the next week on the advice of his doctors.

Without McCain, the current version of Trumpcare — officially titled the Better Care Reconciliation Act — cannot pass the Senate. There are only 52 Republican senators and two of them, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, have already come out against the bill. Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote in the case of a tie.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had originally planned to vote this week on Trumpcare but announced Saturday that he will defer consideration of the healthcare bill until McCain returns.

It’s not clear when that will be. McCain’s doctors aren’t talking to the media, but outside neurologists told The New York Times that the recovery time for such a procedure like this could be weeks. McCain’s office said the surgery went well, but if his health were to fail, then a new Republican senator would be appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican and a longtime Obamacare critic.

The unexpected delay adds more uncertainty to Trumpcare’s prospects. Several Republicans, including McCain, have not committed to supporting the bill, which would result in over 20 million fewer people having health insurance by 2026. McConnell originally planned to pass Trumpcare through the Senate before July Fourth, but several Republicans, moderate and conservative alike, rejected his original proposal. McConnell released a new version July 13 after a few weeks rewriting the bill behind closed doors and without any public hearings.

Senators on both sides of the aisle have publicly chided McConnell for the secretive and rushed process, but the maneuvering has kept Senate Democrats in the dark and has occasionally left the liberal “Resistance” movement to be caught flat-footed.

McCain’s absence, however, gives opponents more time to organize against the bill and pressure key senators while the bill’s language goes public. “The delay is a huge injection of the most precious resource in the resistance movement, which is time,” Ben Wikler, the national director of MoveOn, told reporters on a healthcare organizing call Monday.

And it’s not just progressive groups like Indivisible, MoveOn, Planned Parenthood, ADAPT, and the Working Families Party that now have an extra chance to push against the bill. The latest version of Trumpcare has also raised the ire of important health care interest groups who now have time to lobby against the bill.

Blue Cross Blue Shield and America’s Health Insurance Plans wrote a rare joint letter to Senate leaders on Friday calling the new version “simply unworkable in any form” because of a change pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas that allows for non-Obamacare-compliant plans to be sold and could split the health insurance market.

“It would undermine protections for those with pre-existing medical conditions, increase premiums and lead to widespread terminations of coverage for people currently enrolled in the individual market,” the insurers wrote.

Beyond “Resistance” organizing and business lobbying, Republicans are also seeing a series of polls showing that Trumpcare is extremely unpopular. By a 50-24 percent margin, Americans prefer Obamacare to Trumpcare, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released July 16. Another poll from Bloomberg found that 64 percent of Americans disapproved of Trump’s handling of healthcare, compared to just 40 percent disapproval on creating jobs.

And every day closer to the 2018 midterms makes Republicans more nervous about such polls. McCain’s health may very well determine the country’s.