A dramatic, tumultuous, confusing, chaotic week of health care maneuvering in the Senate has ended with former president Barack Obama's signature health care law completely unchanged.
Here are a few takeaways from the dramatic week:
Democrats finally get a win
You have to forgive Democrats if they spike the ball and dance a little bit. They've been waiting for a win since November, and this one — killing the Republicans' top legislative priority — is a big one. Of course, the Democrats didn't really kill it. Their "no" votes were irrelevant. The best part for Democrats is that the bill failed because Republicans couldn't come to agreement among themselves. That disunity is a good sign for Democrats going forward.
Democrats have a problem
Their law is sick and they need Republican help to fix it. Democrats have been admitting for years that the law has problems: Premiums are soaring in some places; markets are struggling; deductibles are too high. President Trump suggested in a late-night tweet that he is willing just to let the insurance system "implode," and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., suggested at the end of the night that it is now up to Democrats to make some kind of offer for moving forward. Can the minority party get the majority party to agree to repair a law they have vowed to kill?
Trump's agenda is in shambles
Just before the election, Trump issued a plan for key legislation he would push Congress to pass in the first 100 days of his administration, including: tax relief and tariffs on imports; boosting defense spending; building the wall on the Mexican border; and repealing and replacing Obamacare.
More than six months into his term, Congress is nowhere near any of these things. The House approved a cluster of spending bills this week that would boost defense spending and make a down payment on wall construction, but the bills violate existing budget caps and the Senate has expressed no interest in taking them up. Top administration officials and congressional leaders announced Thursday that they have a deal on tax policy — but the only actual detail in the agreement was that they would not be imposing new taxes on imports. The rest of the tax plan is still to be written. And Friday's vote leaves the party with no path forward on Obamacare.
McCain gets a victory lap
After delivering the decisive "thumbs down" on the health care bill, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., now gets to lead the Senate's consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act, which approves $700 billion worth of military projects. This bill will be the anti-heath care. It has broad bipartisan support, the two parties have already agreed on the amendments that will be offered, and they can probably get it through the Senate floor in a matter of hours. McCain said all week that his biggest problem with the heath care bill was the secretive, strictly partisan approach McConnell was deploying to draft the bill. Now McCain will be able to demonstrate how the Senate is supposed to work.
What happened to the Mystique of Mitch?
McConnell has long been hailed as a master tactician, the one guy who might actually be able to govern the ungovernable Senate. His last ploy in the health care debate seemed so crazy it just might work: offer an eight-page bill containing only provisions specifically tailored to win factions of Republican votes, and then tell people it is not intended to become law, just to get a through the Senate so it the real bill can be written in talks with the House. For several hours, late into the night, it appeared he had pulled it off. Instead, he is left with a key policy priority in shambles and deep fissures revealed within the Republican Conference and particularly between the House and the Senate. The party at the moment looks like it has an impotent majority.
Every once in a while, the Senate is good TV
McConnell's approach did not, in the end, result in a bill, but it did result in some gripping TV moments. At the start of the week, McCain — carrying the fresh scar of a facial surgery that revealed a cancerous brain tumor — marched on to the floor to a hero's welcome from his colleagues and cast a critical vote to let Republicans launch the health care debate. In the ensuing days, viewers were repeatedly treated to the rare occurrence of a close vote where the outcome is truly in doubt until the end. There was even the comedy of Republicans demanding a vote on a Democratic agenda item — "single payer" government-run health care — and Democrats voting "present" en masse in protest.
And at the end, McCain again took the spotlight, marching to the clerk's desk and delivering the dramatic "thumbs down" that killed the Obamacare repeal effort. It may or may not be good policy, but it was good TV.