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Collins, Murkowski Set the Stage for McCain’s Dramatic Vote

Female senators came under withering criticism, threats in run-up to health care vote

President Donald Trump, seen here with Republican senators at a White House meeting in June, is demanding they try again on health care. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)
President Donald Trump, seen here with Republican senators at a White House meeting in June, is demanding they try again on health care. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)

Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine withstood withering criticism — including a rhetorical challenge to a duel and a threat from the White House — to set the stage for the dramatic last-minute health care vote early Friday morning. 

In the end, though, it was Arizona Sen. John McCain — returning to Washington during treatment for brain cancer diagnosis — who got the spotlight.

Murkowksi and Collins were the “two other Republicans” McCain joined in a late-night stand against the rest of their party, according to one account in The Washington Post. 

It was a familiar pattern that did not go unnoticed by at least one of their female colleagues. As Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer heaped praise on McCain, calling him, “a war hero,” who, “had courage and does the right thing,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar noticed the oversight.  

“Can you also not forget the two women senators who were there from the beginning?” the Minnesota Democrat said.

Schumer got the hint: He commended both women at a press conference later Friday. “They were amazing,” he said. “Women are in so many instances stronger than men.”

Murkowski and Collins, both moderates, were frequent critics of the legislation’s planned cuts to Medicaid and Planned Parenthood. They also called out their colleagues’ lack of transparency throughout the process. Their positions incited backlash and outright hostility from members of their own party.

Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold hinted that if they were men he would challenge them to a duel.

On a Texas radio show, the Republican congressman said that if one of the bill’s opponents had been a “guy from south Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.” (It was a reference to an 1804 duel in which Burr, the sitting vice president, killed Alexander Hamilton, the founding Treasury secretary.)

Collins got some retribution, inadvertently, when she was caught on a hot mic disparaging Farenthold’s appearance. The two later apologized to each other.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump singled out Murkowski on Twitter on Wednesday, a day after her ‘no’ vote on a procedural motion to open debate on the GOP health care bill.

Both Murkowski and fellow Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said Thursday they each received a phone call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke threatening repercussions for Alaska because of Murkowski’s vote.

Collins told CNN she had not heard from the White House about her vote. 

The top Democrats on the Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources committees are asking the General Accountability Office to investigate Zinke’s actions — including the phone calls — to influence the health care debate. Democrats called his actions a part of “an apparent pattern and organized effort within the Trump Administration involving the use of federal resources to advance partisan legislation.”

Murkowski was unruffled.

In a move widely interpreted as a rebuke to the White House, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee she chairs, which oversees Zinke’s department, postponed a vote Thursday to nominate six Trump appointments, including three for the Interior Department. 

A committee spokesperson told The Washington Times that the delay was “due to uncertainty of the Senate schedule.”

Lindsey McPherson, Bridget Bowman and Jeremy Dillon contributed to this report.