Voting in the early hours, three Republican senators, John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, crossed party lines to join Democrats in a dramatic 49 to 51 vote to reject a "skinny repeal" bill that would have killed some parts of Obamacare.
President Donald Trump insists he's said all along that Congress should let the Affordable Care Act "implode", then replace it. After all, McCain had the stature and personal story (his recent cancer diagnosis) to cast a "no" vote when others couldn't. "We thought they deserved better", he said in his remarks on the floor. "We need new leadership in the Senate if they can't get the job done".
Sen. McConnell also spent a good portion of his speech blaming Democrats for obstructing the process, saying, "It'll be interesting to see what they suggest as the way forward". GOP leaders would then undoubtedly tell Republican senators and House members that if they had the temerity to vote no, they should expect to be pummeled for months (or years) for enshrining Obamacare as a permanent piece of law - and to expect to face well-funded primary challengers.
But unlike the "skinny repeal", Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act will not die.
It is unclear what happens now that the Republican Senate voted "no" Thursday night on a healthcare bill the legislators had hoped would overhaul or eliminate Obamacare.
Analysis of the "Skinny Repeal" bill by the Congressional Budget Office determined it would have pushed up premiums 20 percent and caused 16 million to lose their health insurance.
"The so-called "skinny" bill is a toxic prescription that would make matters worse", said AMA President David Barbe. But the argument among Senate Republicans was that they should vote for the bill just as a vehicle to start negotiations with the House of Representatives in a conference committee. The goal is to offer legislation that would allow Republican lawmakers to return home for the August recess and say they've taken action on an issue that's been one of their key campaign promises for years.
The party defectors? The Democrats in disguise who voted against repeal?
"Obviously I thought he was going to vote yes - I've been working all evening to set up Graham-Cassidy amendment to go onto the conference report", he told reporters.
"Senator Collins and Murkowski of Alaska have been instrumental in the fight against repealing and so we're grateful for their hard work and their common sense", he said.
Cornyn admitted that the Senate can not guarantee that the House will not simply pass the Senate bill, because ultimately "t$3 he request to go to conference, has to come from the House".
"Sen. Daines doesn't support the bill, he just wants to get Democrats on the record", Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor. That's why the three senators - John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Ron Johnson - demanded the House guarantee it would not accept the bill as written, but instead send it to a conference committee.
McConnell put the health bill on hold and announced that the Senate would move onto other legislation next week.
"Obamacare continues to fail", Roberts said late Thursday on Twitter as the voting began.