Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) implied Tuesday that Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) recently discovered brain tumor may have had some kind of influence on his dramatic vote last month to help table a bill that would have repealed Obamacare.
“We did get a call from [House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)] and he assured us that [the bill] was not going to pass the House, and it would have to go to conference,” Johnson said during an interview with AM560 “Chicago’s Morning Answer,” which was first flagged by CNN.
“Again, I’m not gonna speak for John McCain,” Johnson went on. “You know, he has a brain tumor right now ― that vote occurred at 1:30 in the morning ― some of that might have factored in,” he continued.
“Really?” one of the interviewers said. “You really think that that played a factor in his judgment call?”
“Again, I don’t know exactly what ― we really thought that ― and again, I don’t want to speak for any senator. I really thought John was going to vote yes to send that to conference at 10:30 at night,” Johnson said. “By about 1, 1:30, he voted no. So you’d have to talk to John about what was on his mind.”
Requests for comment to the offices of both Johnson and McCain were not immediately returned. A McCain spokesperson issued a statement on Wednesday, calling Johnson’s comments “bizarre and deeply unfortunate.”
Johnson later walked back his comments.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t more eloquently express my sympathy for what Sen. McCain is going through. I have nothing but respect for him and the vote came at the end of a long day for everyone,” he said in a statement.
Last month, on the eve of the critical vote, Johnson joined McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) in a press conference. There, all four senators threatened to withhold support from the so-called “skinny” attempt at repealing certain parts of the Affordable Care Act unless they received assurances from House leaders that they would not simply pass the Senate bill. The senators wanted House leaders to commit to conference negotiations with the Senate on a broader bill repealing Obamacare.
In a subsequent statement, Ryan said the House was “willing” to go to conference. This appeared to assuage all but McCain, who called the speaker’s words “not sufficient.” The Arizona senator did not, however, announce how he would proceed. Just hours later, he cast a surprise vote against the bill.
After the showdown, McCain returned to Arizona for cancer treatment. He has since been active, issuing statements in response to President Donald Trump’s policy in Syria and the president’s startling comments on North Korea.
“Fortunately they found [the tumor] early, and the treatment is going extremely well,” McCain said Wednesday in Phoenix during a Facebook Live Q&A with his constituents.
“Even those who want me to die don’t want me to die right away,” he joked. “And that’s good!”