WASHINGTON—Senator John McCain will return to the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to play what could be a pivotal role in salvaging Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare and keep their years-long pledge to unwind the 2010 healthcare overhaul.
McCain, who is battling brain cancer, is set to help decide whether the repeal push will move forward or perhaps be abandoned entirely.
Senators will be asked whether to begin debate on the Senate floor on a healthcare overhaul to supplant the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
A loss would force Senate Republican leaders to find another strategy or move on to other legislative matters.
President Donald Trump has been increasingly critical of Republican senators for being unable to pass a bill. He kept up the pressure on Tuesday in a series of early-morning tweets, after chastising them at a White House event on Monday.
“After 7 years of talking, we will soon see whether or not Republicans are willing to step up to the plate!” he tweeted, praising McCain for coming back to Washington to cast his vote.
The tally in the divided chamber was 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 such as these, but has voiced concerns about the Senate bill and said he would try to address them on the floor.
He 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 Monday announcing his return.
If enough Republicans vote to move forward, senators would begin debating the bill that passed the House of Representatives in April. But that bill likely would be heavily modified through the amendment process.
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 Republican Senator Mike Rounds. “Let’s get on with it. We have a lot of other things to do.”
No Democrat is expected to vote in favor of opening 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 has been the only Republican who has publicly said she will vote against opening debate, but it remained possible she could be joined by other Republicans concerned about the form the legislation might ultimately take.
In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Collins said Trump has not reached out to her. The president pressured another potential holdout at a West Virginia event late Monday, calling out the state’s Republican senator, Shelley Moore Capito.
In the event of a tied vote, Vice President Mike Pence, who is expected to be on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, would cast the deciding vote.