The Senate voted 51-50 on Tuesday to move forward with a debate on health care reform, even though it was not clear what measure the body will be considering. Vice PresidentÂ Mike PenceÂ cast the tie-breaking vote.
But Tuesday night the Senate, in a vote on a parliamentary measure, effectively voted downÂ the repeal-and-replace draft Senate leadership wrote up this summer. That vote was 43 for, 57 against, with nine Republicans voting no.
But the Senate has yet to consider the second possibility that McConnell introduced, which would swap out the House version with the text of bill lawmakers voted on back in 2015 that repeals the Affordable Care Act but with a two-year delay to leave allow time to pass a replacement.
This language passed both chambers of Congress back then, but even Senate Republicans acknowledge that was a vote to send a message to President Barack Obama and to their voters back home because they knew it was going to get vetoed. Recently, Several Republicans have said they wonâ€™t back a straight repeal option like this and, as of now, it will likely fail.
Once those two options are voted on, the Senate will have more debate time (18 hours divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans) and then a so-called vote-a-rama begins, opening the floodgates for all senators to introduce as many amendments as they want. The vote-a-rama can last until senators reach literal physical exhaustion.
Democrats have said they have “hundreds” of amendments to offer and are preparing for a marathon.
Susan CollinsÂ of Maine andÂ Lisa MurkowskiÂ of Alaska were the only two Republicans who joined Democrats in voting no on the motion to proceed Tuesday afternoon.
Before the voting began, protesters in the Senate’s public gallery chanted “Kill the bill” and “Shame! Shame!”
Sen.Â John McCain, R-Ariz., who was diagnosed with brain cancer last week, returned to the Senate floor to vote in favor of moving the debate forward. His appearance was met with a standing ovation.
“I voted for the motion to proceed to allow debate to continue and amendments be offered,” McCain said. “I will not vote for this bill as it is today. It’s a shell of a bill right now. We all know that.”
Senate Majority LeaderÂ Mitch McConnellÂ said the debate on health care in the chamber will be “an open amendment process.”
“This is just the beginning. We’re not out here to spike the football. This is the long way,” McConnell said after the vote. “But we’ll finish at the end of the week, hopefully with a measure that can either go to the House and be taken up or go to conference” â€” in which differences between the chambers’ bills are resolved. “And we’re pleased to have been able to take the first step, and that’s the direction for today.”
In a statement released Tuesday, Trump said he applauded senators for “taking a giant step to end the Obamacare nightmare.”
“As this vote shows, inaction is not an option, and now the legislative process can move forward as intended to produce a bill that lowers costs and increases options for all Americans,” the statement said. “The Senate must now pass a bill and get it to my desk so we can finally end the Obamacare disaster once and for all.”
Trump thanked McCain on Twitter for returning to D.C. “for such a vital vote.”