How the Senate’s health care vote played out – the drama on the floor

The Senate’s middle-of-the-night vote that killed Republicans’ plan to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act was, political observers say, one of the most dramatic legislative moments in recent history. 

Normally, with a bill of this magnitude, people have a pretty clear idea once voting starts whether the party in power has enough votes, says CBS News chief congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes. That wasn’t the case this time, and “you could see from their body language that senators on the floor themselves didn’t know where things stood,” Cordes said. 

In the moments leading up to the vote on the Health Care Freedom Act, senators sat and stood around the Senate floor, waiting for colleagues to make up their minds — or persuade other colleagues to change theirs. Vice President Mike Pence worked to persuade Sen. John McCain to vote in favor of the measure, with many eyes on both of them. 

These are the most dramatic moments from the overnight saga:

The suspense

The vote on an amendment to send the bill back to committee, set to take place before the main vote, lasted roughly an hour. But that had nothing to do with the vote on the amendment, which easily failed. 

McCain arrived on the floor shortly after midnight, and reporters began noticing his lengthy conversation with Pence. Their conversation lasted what seemed like forever to observers — and the length indicated that perhaps Pence was still trying to persuade the Arizona Republican to vote in favor of the bill. Speculation grew when, after that, McCain walked over to talk to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats. McCain appeared to be getting along well with them, fueling speculation that he might oppose the bill. 

McCain votes “no,” to gasps and cheers

Finally, after more than an hour of waiting, the voting began. One by one, the names of senators who opposed the bill were read. 

When McCain’s was named, audible gasps and cheers broke out in the Senate chamber. 

Democrats were pleased. Some Republicans — including, seemingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — were shocked. 

But McCain’s was only the first “no” vote, and his disapproval didn’t necessarily kill the bill. So, the waiting continued, even though the bill appeared dead with McCain’s vote.

Collins, Murkowski also vote “no,” officially sinking bill 

Two more “no” votes from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) made the bill’s death…

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