John McCain is to return to the US Senate for the first time since he announced his brain cancer diagnosis for a make-or-break session in the Republican effort to repeal President Obama’s healthcare reforms.
Senators will be asked on Tuesday whether to begin debate on legislation to supplant the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare – landmark legislation that has convulsed Republican legislators for seven years.
A loss would force Senate leaders, who have struggled to amass support for their version of an overhaul, to find another strategy or ditch their plans entirely.
President Donald Trump has been increasingly critical of Republican senators and their failure to pass a bill. Trump held an event at the White House on Monday in which he chastised them, saying they had “not done their job in ending the Obamacare nightmare”.
Tuesday’s vote in the divided Senate is expected to be extremely tight, making McCain’s return critical to the repeal effort.
The Arizona senator has said that he typically votes to open legislative debates, but has voiced concerns about the Senate bill and said he would try to address them on the floor.
McCain was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer earlier this month after surgery to remove a blood clot and had not been expected to attend Tuesday’s vote. His office, however, released a statement late on Monday announcing his return.
In the event of enough Republican votes, senators would begin debating the bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives in April. But that bill would likely be subject to significant amendments.
Some senators said it was time to either tackle the issue on the Senate floor or move on to other matters. “Now it’s time to fish or cut bait,” said the Republican senator Mike Rounds. “Let’s get on with it. We have a lot of other things to do.”
No Democrats are expected to vote in favour of opening a debate, meaning that Republicans, who hold 52 seats in the 100-seat chamber, cannot afford to lose more than two of their own.
Senator Susan Collins is the only Republican to publicly confirm plans to vote against opening the debate, but she could be joined by other Republicans concerned about the form the legislation could take.
The vice president, Mike Pence, would exercise his tie-breaking Senate power and vote to hold the debate in the event of a 50/50 split.