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As It Happened: Senate Votes to Debate Healthcare Bill

by Countable | 7.25.17

The Senate voted to start debate on the Republican healthcare bill Tuesday, thanks in part to the return of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) following his brain cancer diagnosis and a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. The Senate will now start consideration of amendments to the bill over the next few days.

3:50pm: Going forward, here's what the process will look like now that the motion to proceed has passed the Senate:

  • 20 hours of debate on the Senate floor;
  • Votes on amendments, which can be introduced by any senator but must be related to fiscal matters (i.e. taxes & spending), not policy;
  • Points of order against the bill, such as provisions that violate the "Byrd rule" that prevents extraneous matters being considered as part of a reconciliation bill;
  • The introduction of the final amendment;
  • Final passage vote in the Senate;
  • If passed by the Senate, the legislation will then go to conference committee with the House to iron out differences between the bills that passed each chamber.

3:30pm: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has introduced the first amendment to the healthcare bill, which is now being read on the floor by the Senate clerk. The legislative text of the amendment is similar to the Obamacare repeal bill passed by the 114th Congress that was ultimately vetoed by President Barack Obama. You can read more about that bill here.

3:10pm: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is now speaking from the Senate floor. He's speaking of his admiration for current and past colleagues in the upper chamber, and his gratitude to the people of Arizona for giving him the opportunity to serve. Speaking for a little more than 15 minutes, he called on senators from both sides of the aisle to work toward restoring the trust that made the Senate "the world's greatest deliberative body."

McCain said that the healthcare bill will need substantial changes before he votes for its final passage, but that he voted for the motion to proceed to allow for debate on it.

He concluded that it's "a privilege to serve with all of you," and expressed gratitude for the well wishes of his colleagues in recent days. He said he'll remain at the Capitol for a few days to oversee debate on the National Defense Authorization Act ― a bill produced by the Armed Services Committee that he chairs. Then he will return home to Arizona to treat his brain cancer, with an eye toward returning to the Senate soon so he can make his colleagues "regret all the nice things you said about me."

3:09pm: Vice President Mike Pence casts an affirmative tiebreaking vote, allowing the healthcare bill to be brought up for debate.

3:01pm: Senators who caucus as Democrats are now casting their votes, all of which are expected to be "nays." Once they've been cast, that will lead to a 50-50 tie that can be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.

2:59pm: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) receives a bipartisan standing ovation as he returns to the Senate floor. He promptly casts a "yes" vote, which is followed up by a "yes" from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). That gives Republicans the 50 votes they need to start debate on the healthcare bill.

2:55pm: It appears that GOP leadership may be doing some last minute "whipping," as Majority Leader McConnell and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) are having a chat on the floor with Sen. Johnson.

2:50pm: We're still awaiting votes Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is reportedly on his way to Capitol Hill, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Democratic senators.

2:45pm: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) votes in favor of the motion, so now the tally stands at 48-2.

2:43pm: We're still awaiting the first vote from a member of the Senate Democratic caucus on the motion. Three Republicans haven't voted ― Sens. McCain, Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Jim Inhofe (R-OK).

2:41pm: So far, two Republicans have voted against the motion to proceed ― Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) ― meaning all GOP senators who haven't voted will need to vote "yes" to allow Vice President Mike Pence (now chairing proceedings) to cast the tiebreaking vote. That leaves the tally at 47-2 with no Democratic senators having cast a vote so far.

2:32pm: Voting has begun!

2:30pm: As McConnell asks Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who is chairing today's proceedings, to bring the motion up for a vote a chorus of "kill the bill" and "shame" erupts from protesters in the Senate gallery. The Sergeant-at-Arms has removed them from the chamber.

2:25pm: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is now speaking, saying that a yes vote on the motion to proceed is an opportunity for all senators to bring their amendments to the floor for a vote. Saying that "we can't let this moment slip by," McConnell reminding Republicans that last year's election gave them an opportunity they weren't sure they'd have, and that he hopes they'll take it.

McConnell also put forward a motion to let Sen. McCain speak for 15 minutes from the floor after the vote, which will not count toward the debate.

2:20pm: A pair of GOP senators who have been reluctant to support the healthcare bill have announced that they'll vote yes on the motion to proceed, namely Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Dean Heller (R-NV).

2:15pm: Senators have returned to the floor in anticipation of the vote. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is speaking again, blasting Republicans for "cloak and dagger legislating" on healthcare, telling them to vote against the motion to proceed because it will hurt people in their states.

1:50pm: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will return to the Senate today, just six days after it was announced that he'd been diagnosed with brain cancer. His presence will be both an emotional and tactical boost for Republicans, who will need his vote to pass the motion to proceed.

12:30pm: The Senate is in recess until 2:15pm for the weekly conference meetings held by the Republican and Democratic caucuses.

12:15pm: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) spoke from the floor, calling the GOP healthcare plan "a ruse" to get the differing House & Senate versions of the bill to conference committee following Senate passage. In particular, he called out Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who has said he'll only vote in favor of the motion to proceed if the Senate votes on the clean repeal of Obamacare it passed in 2015.

12:05pm: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the floor to encourage Republicans to "keep their commitments" to begin debate on the healthcare bill. McConnell called today's motion to proceed a "critical first step" in the process of repealing and replacing Obamacare with reforms "that expand choice and lower cost." He also introduced a separate motion to proceed to the National Defense Authorization Act, which will be on the Senate's agenda whenever it moves on from healthcare.

12:00pm: The Senate has gaveled in to officially start its work day.

11:58am: How did we get here? Back on May 4, the House passed the American Health Care Act on a narrow 217-213 vote. The House had tried to vote on the AHCA several weeks earlier in late March, but they had to pull the bill before a scheduled floor vote because it lacked the support it needed at that point.

Much like their colleagues in the House, Senate Republicans have struggled to coalesce around a way forward. Moderates want to preserve aspects of the Medicaid expansion and protections for pre while conservatives want a full repeal of Obamacare and its mandates. Their version of the bill, dubbed the Better Care Reconciliation Act, has undergone several revisions since it was first unveiled.

11:52am: What's a motion to proceed? A motion to proceed is a Senate procedure that allows lawmakers to bring a bill or other measure up for a vote and start debate on it when they don't have unanimous consent. Motions to proceed only require a simple majority vote, unlike cloture votes to end debate, which require 60 votes.

11:44am: Welcome to our live blog! Countable will be here covering developments in the Senate throughout the today, as lawmakers are expected to cast a vote on a motion to proceed to legislation rolling back Obamacare.

― Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: USCapitol / Public Domain)

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