McCain makes dramatic return to Senate for health vote, condemns 'tribal' politics

Sen. John McCain returned to the Senate Tuesday afternoon for the first time since his brain cancer diagnosis, delivering powerful remarks from the floor addressing the need for bipartisanship amid the gridlock facing the chamber.

McCain, R-Ariz., returned to help GOP colleagues advance their health care bill. As he arrived, he was greeted by a round of applause and hugs from his fellow senators.

“Make no mistake, my service here is the most important job I have had in my life. And I am so grateful to the people of Arizona for the privilege—for the honor—of serving here and the opportunities it gives me to play a small role in the history of the country I love,” McCain said, acknowledging senators he’s “known and admired.” “But they knew that however sharp and heartfelt their disputes, however keen their ambitions, they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively.”

But McCain stressed that the Senate’s deliberations are “more partisan, more tribal” than any time he remembers.

“Our deliberations can still be important and useful, but I think we’d all agree they haven’t been overburdened by greatness lately—and right now they aren’t producing much for the American people,” McCain said.

McCain blamed “both sides” for the lack of cooperation.

“We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides,” McCain said.

He added: "Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them. They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood."

The test vote on the health care bill Tuesday allows lawmakers to start debate. With McCain's support and a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Pence, it cleared the hurdle on a 51-50 vote.

McCain warned he won't support the bill in its current form.

“I will not vote for the bill as it is today. It’s a shell of a bill right now. We all know that,” McCain said. “We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past unified opposition.”

McCain said he didn’t think that would work, and added that “it probably shouldn’t.”

President Trump was not mentioned by name in McCain’s speech, but the senator did go on to mention that the Senate is an “important check on the powers of the Executive.”

“Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal,” McCain said. “As his responsibilities are onerous, many and powerful, so are ours.”

McCain went on to thank fellow senators for their kind words and prayers after the news of his diagnosis.

“I’ve had so many people say such nice things about me recently that I think some of you must have me confused with someone else,” McCain joked, drawing laughter from the chamber. “I appreciate it though, every word, even if much of it isn’t deserved.”

McCain said he would spend “a few days” in Washington and plans to manage the floor debate later this week on the defense authorization bill.

McCain concluded his remarks with a promise that he had “every intention” of returning to Washington after spending time at home to treat his illness.

“I have every intention of returning here and giving many of you cause to regret all the nice things you said about me,” McCain joked. “And, I hope, to impress on you again that it is an honor to serve the American people in your company.”