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John McCain to return to Senate for pivotal health care vote

It’s a boost for Republican leaders.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will return to Washington on Tuesday despite recently being diagnosed with brain cancer, his office announced Monday evening, just in time for a critical vote on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

That means Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a slightly wider margin for error as the vote to start debate on the health care plan approaches. With McCain out, two Republican defections would have been enough to kill the Obamacare repeal effort.

But his return likely gives leadership one more vote in favor of starting debate — McCain has told reporters repeatedly that he would vote to advance the bill, even if he reserved the right to oppose the final product — and could provide a morale boost.

McCain had emergency surgery to remove a blood clot on July 15. That led to doctors discovering a cancerous brain tumor, which was disclosed last Wednesday. He was considered out indefinitely.

The Arizona senator will come back to the Senate at a critical juncture for the Republican bid to repeal and replace Obamacare. Fifty of the 52 Senate Republicans must back any measure in order for it to pass under the procedural shortcut they are using to bypass a filibuster.

Republican senators are pressing ahead on a vote Tuesday anyway, though even Republican senators aren’t sure what exactly they’ll be voting on. The bill’s prospects are still uncertain. A half-dozen or more Senate Republicans are still undecided about whether to even start debate on a health care overhaul.

The argument that Senate leaders and the White House have made in the final days has been: Republicans promised to repeal and replace Obamacare. Now is the time.

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