Sen. Johnson suggests McCain's brain tumor affected health care vote

Julia Munslow

A Republican senator suggested Tuesday that Sen. John McCain’s brain tumor may have contributed to his decisive “no” vote on the Senate health care bill last month. The Republican senator, Ron Johnson, R-Wis., later said he was disappointed in how he had expressed himself.

Johnson said in a radio interview that he thought McCain’s health and the late hour of the vote could have affected his judgment on the legislation to dismantle much of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. His comments were first reported by CNN.

“We did get a call from Paul [Ryan], and he assured us that skinny repeal was not going to pass the House, it would have to go to conference,” Johnson told the hosts on “Chicago’s Morning Answer.”

“Again, I’m not gonna speak for John McCain — he has a brain tumor right now — [but] that vote occurred at 1:30 in the morning. Some of that might have factored in,” Johnson continued.

Host Amy Jacobson replied, “Really?”

“You really think that played a factor in his judgment call?” she asked.

“Again, I-I-I don’t know exactly what — we really thought — and again I don’t want speak for any senator,” Johnson said. “I really thought John was going to vote yes to send that to conference at 10:30 at night. By about 1, 1:30, he voted no. So you have talk to John in terms of what was on his mind.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and a still image from video of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaking on the floor of the Senate after returning to Washington for a vote on health care reform, July 25, 2017. (Photos: AP; Senate TV via Reuters)

McCain, along with Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, cast the decisive GOP votes to sink the Senate bill. Republicans, facing united Democratic opposition, could only afford to lose two votes from their party and advance the bill.

Unlike Murkowski and Collins, though, McCain had voted to allow debate on the legislation, and his dramatic vote against the bill seemed to catch Republican leadership by surprise.

The veteran lawmaker released a statement July 28, the same day as his “no” vote, explaining that he voted against the “shell of a bill” because it failed to increase competition, lower costs and improve health care for Americans. McCain had returned to the Senate to vote on the health care reform legislation after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor.

The Arizona senator also said he had not been convinced by Ryan’s promises that House members would work with senators and craft a new repeal, and that the bill would not be signed into law.

“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of the nation’s governors and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people,” McCain said.

A McCain spokesperson said in a Wednesday statement, “It is bizarre and deeply unfortunate that Senator Johnson would question the judgment of a colleague and friend. Senator McCain has been very open and clear about the reasons for his vote.”

McCain said in a Wednesday Facebook Live video that his health is “fine,” and that he’s been receiving treatment from doctors at the Mayo Clinic.

“Even those that want me to die don’t want me to die right away, so that’s good,” the senator said at the end of the video. “But overall, I just want to say thank you, thank you for your friendship, thank you for your loyalty.”

In a Wednesday statement released via a spokesman, Johnson said, “I’m disappointed I didn’t more eloquently express my sympathy for what Sen. McCain is going through. I have nothing but respect for him, and the vote came at the end of a long day for everyone.”

Update [8/9/17 at 2:29 p.m.]: This story has been updated to reflect comments from McCain and Johnson on the interview, and comments made by McCain in a Facebook Live video. 

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