The Senate effort to undo the Affordable Care Act failed dramatically early Friday morning, with Sen. John McCain casting a deciding "no" vote. The promise of repeal has animated the Republican Party for seven years, and the defeat was a devastating loss for the GOP and President Trump.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel in Washington where the big news is a shakeup at the White House. This afternoon, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he has a new chief of staff. Out is Reince Priebus, the former chair of the Republican National Committee. His six-month tenure was bumpy. In is John Kelly, the current secretary of Homeland Security. We'll have more on that story in a moment. But first, health care.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
For seven years and three elections, the promise of repealing the Affordable Care Act was the animating force in the Republican Party. Late last night, Republicans failed to deliver on that promise. The Senate rejected legislation to dismantle Obamacare by one vote. And it was a Republican, Arizona Senator John McCain, who cast the decisive vote to defeat it. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis was there last night, and she is with us again to talk about what this means for health care and for the Republican Party. Hey there, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey again, Kelly.
MCEVERS: Hey. So as we said, you were there watching the vote. What was it like?
DAVIS: You know, for a congressional reporter, this was a moment better than Shakespeare.
DAVIS: If you remember, you know, earlier this week, John McCain - who was recently given a very serious brain cancer diagnosis - had dramatically returned to Washington to cast a decisive vote that let the Senate begin this health care debate. And then late last night or early this morning, he ended up casting the vote that essentially ended that debate.
It was really a show-stopping moment on the Senate floor when he approached the dais and raised his arm and pointed down, indicating he was going to vote no. There was audible gasps and some applause in the Senate chamber. And remember that, you know, in the story of Obamacare, there was this moment last night where President Obama's 2008 presidential rival...
DAVIS: ...May have just played a very pivotal role in protecting Obama's health care law.
MCEVERS: What happens next on health care?
DAVIS: You know, Mitch McConnell warned that if Republicans failed on going this alone, they would have to turn to Democrats. And Democrats are saying, we're ready to deal on health care and maybe even more. This is what Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had to say today.
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CHUCK SCHUMER: So on health care, but also in the Senate as a whole, I hope what John McCain did will be regarded in history as a turning point where the Senate turned back from its partisanship and started working together. We long for it. We yearn to work together.
DAVIS: That, of course, is not as easy as it sounds. Democrats do have a lot of ideas on health care, but a lot of those ideas also involve spending a lot more federal money to back up the system. And I don't think it should come as any surprise that Republicans are not very eager to do that.
MCEVERS: Regardless of what happens in the future, I mean, this moment right now feels pretty big politically. I mean, this has been a core issue for the Republican Party and for President Trump. What's the fallout been? What are you hearing on Capitol Hill?
DAVIS: You know, there's two ways to look at it. There's sort of the policy question, the governing question. I talked to Senator Mike Rounds last night. And Republicans were sort of stunned coming off the floor. And he said, we have some tough questions to ask ourselves. And we have some tough questions to figure out our agenda moving forward. In the short term, Republicans want to pivot. They want to start talking about their other priority, to overhaul the tax code. But I don't think there's any delusion on Capitol Hill that that's going to be equally as hard.
And then you have the political question, the political fallout. You know, Senator Ted Cruz, a conservative from Texas, was talking to reporters also after the vote. And he said, you know, there's a lot of Americans that we promised we were going to do this. And those Americans are going to feel betrayed. They're going to feel lied to. And that - they're not unjustified in feeling that way. And he suggested that, heading into the 2018 midterms where the party in power tends to take some hits, that the Republican Party should potentially brace itself for some blowback from voters who feel betrayed that the Republican Party couldn't make good on its promise.
MCEVERS: NPR's Susan Davis. Thank you.
DAVIS: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.