John McCain announced Friday morning that he would vote against the Graham-Cassidy proposal, which offers the last opportunity to repeal Obamacare before September 30, at which point 60 votes will be required to undo the health care law rather than a simple majority. “I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal,” explained the liberal Republican senator. “I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried. Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums and how many people will be helped or hurt by it.”
With Senator Rand Paul voting against the bill and senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski leaning toward a “no” vote, Senator McCain may have once again quashed any hope of Republicans repealing former president Barack Obama’s deceptive and unpopular health care legislation. But while a vote against the fulfillment of an eight-year campaign promise may constitute a particularly egregious betrayal, McCain has long styled himself a “maverick” and boasted of refusing to play ball with his nominal partisans.
According to analysis by Harry Enten at Five Thirty Eight, McCain voted reliably with conservatives and Republicans from his election to the Senate in 1987 until 1996, which just happened to coincide with his decision to seek the presidency in 2000. Since that time, McCain has only voted with his party in one Congress out of ten. McCain has voted particularly against his party during the early years of the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations — two Republicans with whom he clashed bitterly during their respective presidential primaries.
Not only has John McCain been significantly more likely than the median senator to vote against his own party during all but one term over the past 20 years, he has also rebuffed his party on issues of significance. During the early years of the Bush administration, John McCain was one of only two Republicans to vote against the 2001 tax cuts and later one of only three to vote against the 2003 tax cuts, explaining, “I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle-class Americans who most need tax relief.” McCain’s accusation that the tax cuts came at the expense of middle class Americans does not hold up to scrutiny, however, as both pieces of law cut tax rates for every American who pays income taxes.
In 2002, McCain sponsored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act better known as McCain-Feingold, which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in Citizens United v. FEC. McCain’s legislation, among other provisions, limited corporate donations to political campaigns while exempting media corporations. The editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News criticized this exception, observing that it “makes no sense” that newspapers may endorse candidates up until election day while advocacy groups were prohibited from so doing.
Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Citizens United noted that the First Amendment makes no distinction between media and non-media corporations and that “if the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.” Hillary Clinton made it a key plank of her 2016 presidential platform to overturn Citizens United and reinstitute a version of McCain’s legislation.
In 2003, McCain co-sponsored Senator Joe Lieberman’s Climate Stewardship Act, which mandated a cap and trade system for greenhouse gases to address the threat of catastrophic man-caused global warming. The legislation would have hampered economic growth by capping 2010 carbon dioxide emissions at the 2000 level. McCain was one of only six Republicans to vote for the bill.
In 2005, Senator John McCain sponsored the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, better known as McCain-Kennedy, alongside the most infamous drunk driver in Senate history. The legislation would have put illegal aliens on a path to U.S. citizenship. It proved so politically disastrous that the bill never made it to the floor for a vote. President Trump won the presidency in large part on popular discontent over the federal government's neglect of law and order on illegal immigration.
In 2015, after insisting that “congress must be creative in using all the tools in our toolbox” to oppose President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty, McCain broke rank with Republicans and voted in favor of fully funding Obama’s unconstitutional action. Given McCain’s previous record on illegal immigration, the vote hardly made headlines.
And that brings us back to Obamacare repeal. In July, Senator McCain returned to the Senate just one week after being diagnosed with brain cancer to cast the decisive vote on the motion to advance Obamacare repeal, only then to turn around and vote “no” and effectively kill the legislation. Now McCain promises again vote against the fulfillment of an eight-year Republican promise, and the “maverick” continues his two-decade-long streak of predictability.