In the end, it wasn't Dean Heller or Mike Lee or any of the other leading suspects who ultimately picked up the knife and killed Republicans' efforts to repeal the ACA in the Senate. It was Sen. John McCain, who has never been especially active on health care and whose presence in the Senate this week was itself a surprise, following his diagnosis with brain cancer.
- McCain held out despite intense lobbying from Vice President Mike Pence. Leadership held a separate vote open for almost an hour as Pence stood at McCain's desk, making his case. But the writing was on the wall almost as soon as McCain entered the Senate chamber last night and said something that put a smile on Sen. Chuck Schumer's face.
- GOP leaders were also lobbying Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a more entrenched "no" vote, before the bill failed. But neither she nor McCain seemed flustered, even as the pressure wore on. (Sen. Susan Collins was the third Republican "no" vote.)
"It did have the makings of a good movie there for a while. I'm just glad that we can try to move on," a senior GOP aide told our colleague Caitlin Owens after the vote.
What comes next: Conservatives were particularly stung by last night's defeat, and said they would keep up the pressure for some sort of action on repeal. But, realistically, it's hard to see leaders in either chamber wading back into such a bruising fight any time soon. "It's time to move on," an emotional Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said as he closed out the Senate's session.
Democrats have been saying they're eager to work with Republicans to stabilize the ACA's marketplaces, and there's a stable of Republicans (like Sen. Lamar Alexander) who likely will now be willing to tackle short-term stabilization plans. But all Democrats have offered so far are plans to pump more money into the program, and it'll soon be time to walk the walk on that whole bipartisanship thing.