Health Care GOP Senators

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, right, listens as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 27. In a radio interview, Johnson suggested that John McCain's brain tumor and the after-midnight timing of the vote were factors in the Arizona lawmaker's decisive vote against the GOP health care bill. 

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE, ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Tuesday that Sen. John McCain’s battle with a brain tumor “might have factored in” to his vote last month to sink a Senate Republican health care bill.

Johnson’s comments, which he later walked back, were first reported by CNN. They came in a Tuesday morning interview on Chicago’s WIND-AM 560.

Johnson was asked in the interview about the U.S. Senate Republicans’ latest failure to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law. That process has stalled after McCain, joining fellow Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska as “no” votes, cast a surprise vote last month to defeat a so-called “skinny repeal” bill.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, and the remaining Senate Republicans voted for the bill.

‘I’m not gonna speak for John McCain. He has a brain tumor right now; that vote occurred at 1:30 in the morning — so some of that might have factored in,” Johnson said.

“Really?” the host responded. “You really think that that played a factor in his judgment call?”

“I really thought John was going to vote yes to send that (bill) to conference at 10:30 that night,” Johnson said. “By about 1, 1:30, he voted no. So you’d have to talk to John in terms of what was on his mind.”

McCain, R-Ariz., announced last month that he’s undergoing treatment for a brain tumor.

A McCain spokeswoman said Wednesday that “it is bizarre and deeply unfortunate that Senator Johnson would question the judgment of a colleague and friend.”

“Sen. McCain has been very open and clear about the reasons for his vote,” spokeswoman Julie Tarallo said.

McCain has said he voted “no” because the process that created the bill was flawed and partisan, and the measure doesn’t do enough to replace the parts of Obamacare it would have repealed. He has urged members of both parties to begin working together on a health care bill.

After Johnson’s remarks were widely reported Wednesday, he issued a statement saying “I’m disappointed I didn’t more eloquently express my sympathy for what Sen. McCain is going through.

“I have nothing but respect for him, and the vote came at the end of a long day for everyone,” Johnson said.

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Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.