In 11th grade, my history teacher told us about Edmund G. Ross, who was the deciding vote against Andrew Johnson's impeachment in 1868. He was the last of seven Republican Senators to break with their party, and establish the precedent that you can't impeach someone just because you don't agree with their policies. My history teacher said that when Ross cast his vote, he felt like he was looking into the coffin of his political career.
And it was true. Ross was voted out of office the next chance his constituents got. He later moved to New Mexico to die (and serve as the governor), as many disgraced politicians do.
Clearly things did not go well for Ross, but history has established that he did the right thing, so much so that President Kennedy included him in Profiles in Courage, about Senators who stood up against the norm.
Last night was a profile in courage moment for Republican Senators. A chance to stand up against an additional 16 million uninsured people, to stand up against cuts to employer-provided insurance and a chance to stand up against the possibility of ending coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Two courageous Republican women, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) broke with their party to vote to protect healthcare for millions of people. Senators Collins and Murkowski have stood strong against attempts to repeal and replace healthcare from the very beginning. Both have also voted against some of the President's nominees as well, and are well known for taking principled stands against their party.
Plus, Senator Murkowski won her seat in a write-in campaign against a tea party Republican, which is about as maverick as it gets.
There was also a very courageous Senator, who is battling likely fatal cancer, traveled thousands of miles to do what they believe is right, and cast a vote that made life better for a lot of people. Of course, I'm talking about Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) who has kidney cancer, and gave a beautiful speech about compassion, and protecting Americans.
But of course, two Republican Senators and all the Democrats against a bill gives us a 50-50 tie, and one more Republican needed to flip. President Kennedy's book is not about all seven Republicans who voted against Johnson's impeachment, it's about Edmund Ross. And Senator John McCain's vote against the skinny repeal, whatever his motives, was courageous as well. He may never run for office again. He maybe wouldn't win if he did. But in a moment of crisis, Senator McCain didn't do what was easy, he did what he believed is right, and may have saved health care coverage for millions of people.
There were many heroes and courageous people in this fight. Senators Collins and Murkowski were heroic in standing strong against the bill, but the could not have done it if they didn't know how their constituents felt. Numerous activism groups, including Call Them In, organized calls to actions to pressure Murkowski and Collins to vote against the bill. Everyone who called their Senators to advocate for a less harmful bill had an impact on the final vote.
Activists from ADAPT, a national disability rights organization, did amazing work drawing attention to the people who would be impacted by changes to the ACA. These activists risked their lives and health to raise awareness of the harm any Republican bill would do. Even council members in New York, like my dear Corey Johnson, risked arrest to protest Medicaid cuts and repeals to Obamacare.
It takes a lot of different types of people to pass legislation. You don't always like the people who help you get something done. And sometimes, no matter how much you dislike a person, you have to acknowledge and thank them when they helped you. It's easy for me to thank the ADAPT Activists, Corey Johnson, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, but I think I also have to do the hard work, and as much as I dislike it, thank John McCain as well, for his corageous stand last night, and for preserving health care for me, and people I care about.