McCain Cancer Diagnosis Looms over Healthcare Talks

News of Senator John McCain’s diagnosis of brain cancer loomed over a previously scheduled meeting on healthcare negotiations on Wednesday night, The Hill reports.

Senator James Lankford lead more than a dozen GOP senators in prayer as they found out about the Arizona Republican’s condition during the closed door talks, with senators emerging from the meeting sober faced and full of praise for their colleague.

“We prayed. It was very emotional. It was almost kind of stunned disbelief for a minute,” Senator John Hoeven said after emerging from the hours-long talk.

Senator Lindsey Graham, one of McCain’s best friends and closest Senate allies, appeared visibly emotional as he recounted his conversation that he had on Wednesday with McCain.

“He says I’ve been through worse,” he told reporters. “So pray. …This disease has never had a more worthy opponent.”

Senator John Kennedy —describing senators as “shocked” and “upset”—added that “we stopped and said a prayer for John and his family.”

McCain’s office announced on Wednesday night a brain tumor was discovered after the senior Arizona senator underwent a minor procedure last week to remove a blood clot from above his left eye. The 80-year-old lawmaker’s diagnosis raced through Washington, sparking offers of support from members of both parties.

Senator Ted Cruz emerged from the GOP healthcare meeting recounting McCain’s time as a prisoner of war, calling him “a man who fought and bled and served our nation.”

“All of us stopped. It was a sobering moment. John is someone we work with, we serve with, we respect, and it is very sad news,” he said.

Meanwhile, McCain’s Democratic colleagues weighed in through social media praising the senator—who is widely respected in both parties.

“You are a true fighter [and] I’ll be praying for you until you beat this. I know you will,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted.

President Obama, who defeated McCain in the 2008 election and served with him in the Senate, added “cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against. Give it hell, John.”

In its statement, McCain’s office didn’t indicate when the Arizona lawmaker could return to the Senate, but said he is in good spirits and confident any treatments will be effective.

“The Senator and his family are reviewing further treatment options with his Mayo Clinic care team. Treatment options may include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation,” the hospital, which performed the initial surgery, said in a statement released by McCain’s office.

Further considerations with his doctor will determine when he returns to the Senate, according to his office.

“We’ve already heard from him. He sent word that he wants to get back. …He’s a real warrior, and he’s a national hero,” Hoeven said.

Graham added that he spoke to McCain about healthcare and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—an annual defense bill McCain shepherds through the Senate—during their phone call.

The announcement of McCain’s diagnosis came as the Arizona Republican has been absent from Washington this week recovering from his surgery last Friday.

The surprise surgery forced Senate Republicans to delay a vote on their healthcare plan, which was initially expected this week, until next week. Though GOP senators stressed their top priority is McCain’s health, they also acknowledged on Wednesday night that if he remains absent it could complicate their push to pass the legislation.

“Obviously I think more people are worried about his health, and not thinking about the math, but, you know, you understand the math, so obviously it makes things difficult,” Senator Bob Corker told reporters after he left the closed-door meeting.

With all 100 senators voting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can afford to lose two GOP senators and still let Vice President Mike Pencebreak a tie. With McCain absent and all other 99 senators voting, he can only afford to lose one GOP senator, which would let him get a 50-49 vote.

GOP senators huddled in Senator John Barrasso’s office for more than two hours on Wednesday night as they try to revive their plan to move ObamaCare repeal and replacement in one bill.

The renewed effort comes after Senate Republicans attended a closed-door lunch with President Trump and emerged pledging to give their healthcare bill one last final try.

Republicans are expected to try to take up a House-passed healthcare bill, which is being used as a vehicle for any Senate action, early next week. GOP leadership will need a simple majority to get on the bill.

If that is successful they will either offer as an amendment to the legislation their 2015 repeal-only bill—which doesn’t have enough support to succeed—or if they can get a deal they will offer a revised version of their proposal to both repeal and replace ObamaCare.

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