Later days, Skinny Repeal!
Later days, Skinny Repeal! MPHILLIPS007 / GETTY

Once again, the GOP's attempt to wrest health care from millions has been thwarted, with the failure of the Skinny Repeal in the Senate. (Petty sidebar: Is this not the dumbest name for legislation you've ever heard? It sounds like the worst Starbucks drink.) Three Republicans and 48 Democrats did what needed to be done, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine carried out their duty to their constituents after a week that included real-life man-baby Rep. Blake Farenthold implying that he wanted to challenge Collins and other women Republicans to a duel, John McCain voted no with a performative thumbs-down like a party-disrupting Siskel or Ebert, Mitch McConnell almost cried, and my embarrassing slow-burn admiration for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer continues apace.

After his no vote, McCain released a statement saying, "We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people. We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve."

The funny thing about McCain's statement is that it's almost the same statement verbatim that he released last Monday, then conveniently buried with his procedural vote to open debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act. Life comes at you fast, etc. In retrospect, it's easy to read his earlier criticism of Trumpcare as a hint towards his no vote to come.

When he voted for the procedural vote, I thought more had to be going on with McCain than just lockstep moral bankruptcy, and it turns out this was true. Because despite the social media flogging he got this week after his procedural vote, the guy's a complicated figure—and, I'd argue, an almost tragic one. Though a reliably conservative vote, McCain has typically shown more willingness than other Republicans to oppose his party. FiveThirtyEight has a good breakdown of his "maverick" image, which in practice basically just means that he's stayed relatively moderate even as the GOP around him has grown more conservative.

And it's not just McCain in this weird "BUT I'M A MODERATE!" situation. Consider the political evolution of someone like Mitt Romney, who was responsible for Massachusetts' health care reform (a model for the Affordable Care Act), and who claimed pro-choice views as recently as 2002. In many ways, Murkowski and Collins have taken over for them.

That doesn't mean McCain's a heroic iconoclast, or that he doesn't frequently fall in line with his horrible party, but it does mean that occasionally, he deviates from his party like he did this week, when we caught a glimpse of the maverick McCain. What's significant about Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins is that they do this way more often. They would be the future of the Republican party if that party had any goddamn sense, and they may well be anyway.

In any case, we needed three votes, and we got them. The president decried the vote, saying in a tweet that it "let the American people down."

As usual, he is wrong. What they did is actually called leadership.

It's something Murkowsi and Collins epitomize, as they listen to their constituents, which is their job, even and maybe especially when it means standing firm against a bullying GOP. It's something that until now, we hadn't seen from John McCain in a very long time. And it's something we've never seen from Donald Trump, which means someone has to pick up the slack. Leave it to two Republican women to lead the way.