In William Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, the Roman leader declares -- on the steps of the Roman Senate and just before being fatally knifed by his friend and colleague, Marcus Brutus -- “Et tu, Brute?” The contemporary adaptation of that iconic scene played out just last week on the floor of the United States Senate during the denouement of the GOP’s long-standing effort to repeal at least part of Obamacare. As Arizona Sen. John McCain cast the deciding vote against the Republican-backed legislation, plaintiff cries of “Et tu, McCain?” could be heard echoing around the chamber.
McCain stretched out the suspense for as long as possible, even preening coyly to reporters right before his knife-in-the-back vote, “Wait for the show.” For anyone familiar with the Arizona octogenarian’s career, and whose judgment was not clouded by notions of senatorial nicety, however, the handwriting was on the wall in capital letters.
Just a few days before the vote, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican senators were tripping over themselves for the opportunity to gush over McCain as the greatest American ever to walk the halls of Congress; aside, perhaps, from the last larger-than-life Senator they lionized, Ted Kennedy, after he died. McConnell and other GOP Senators had pleaded with McCain to come back to the Senate even as he was scheduled to undergo treatment for brain cancer in his home state and, with his vast wisdom and experience, lead them once again. And, boy, did he lead them; right into a brick wall.
In their adulation of a man whose own state party once censured him for similar betrayals, GOP Senate elders apparently forgot McCain loves playing the “key man” role and basking in the press’ limelight more than he does anything else -- including substance. They also apparently overlooked the fact that McCain’s biggest hug on the Senate floor when he returned from the hospital, was not with one of his Republican colleagues, but with Chuck Schumer, the Democrat leader. Like a seer warning of the “Ides of March,” this seemingly innocuous act should have forewarned the Republicans what was to come; but they apparently were too busy scrambling to pay tribute to a man who rarely offered any in return.
Republican senators have given McCain a perpetual free pass to paint himself to the press as the one true, principled Republican in the Senate, regardless of how many times he sold out the GOP’s leverage to Democrats in the name of bipartisanship, without ever getting anything in return. The Obamacare vote was a perfect example of this one-way strategy. His announced justification for casting the deciding vote that sank the legislation was gobbledygook and made no sense whatsoever. His lingering “indecision” appears to have been staged simply to keep his colleagues twisting in the wind, and the media chasing after him as the “Great Decider.”
So now, the charade that had been played by Republicans (at least those in the Senate) for the past seven years – that the only thing standing in the way of a true repeal of Obamacare was the absence of a president willing to sign it into law – has been shown for what it is: a fig leaf.Most ironic of all, the man who buried the repeal effort was not a Democrat, as Republicans had always warned, but the Republican Senator who those same Republicans (including Vice President Mike Pence) fawned over up until the moment the knife went in.
Now, Senate Republican leadership are a laughing stock, and Obamacare remains the law of the land for the foreseeable future. But their erstwhile hero McCain won his most cherished parting gift as he exits stage-right – the limelight; as the bipartisan wheeler-and-dealer chirping that all it will take to fix Obamacare is to “just get along” and work together with the Democrats.
McCain’s antics breathed new life into Minority Leader Schumer who, before McCain handed him the ball, was in danger of being relegated to the sidelines with nothing to show for all his bluster but a few headlines in the Washington Post about Trump and the Russians. With his new-found relevancy, Schumer’s long-term dream of becoming Senate Majority Leader in January 2019 also has been resurrected, perhaps even bolstered. “Et tu, McCain?” indeed.