The signs of a backroom deal were there.

Sen. John McCain proclaimed the value of old-fashioned openness and bipartisanship in a remarkable speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. That was the emotional day he returned to Washington after his brain cancer diagnosis.

But then, that same day, he voted to move forward an Obamacare-repeal bill that was drafted in secret and supported only by Republicans. It represented the opposite of the process he had just extolled.

And on Thursday afternoon, McCain and two Senate colleagues said they opposed the so-called “skinny repeal,” the Senate’s latest effort to remove the Affordable Care Act. But McCain & Co. were willing to consider it if certain assurances or amendments were made.

So, many of us were pretty sure McCain would strike a deal with Senate leaders that would allow him to support the party and vote “yes.” This has become a pattern with McCain in the Trump era — protest, criticize, grumble, then go along. My earlier draft of this column even operated on that assumption.

Then, in a dramatic move that happened in the early-morning hours in Washington, D.C., Friday, he surprised me and many others. He walked into the well of the Senate, stuck his thumb downward and said “no.”

Senators gasped. Even though McCain’s vote was consistent with his earlier arguments, it was surprising.

He explained in a later statement that the reasons for his vote were essentially the principles he had extolled on Tuesday.

“I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of Obamacare was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict-party line basis without a single Republican vote. We should not make the mistakes of the past that has led to Obamacare’s collapse, including in my home state of Arizona where premiums are skyrocketing and health care providers are fleeing the marketplace.”

“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people. We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”

At this point, they really have no choice. That’s a good thing — and today we have McCain to thank for it. 

Stone on McCain

Roger Stone would not come to Tucson and just spout pablum. No, Stone’s currency is controversy, and he gave plenty of hot takes during a speech at the Mountain Oyster Club Wednesday night. My colleague Joe Ferguson attended the $25-a-person event and gave this account.

Stone, an advisor to President Trump, told about 100 people that Sen. John McCain needs to leave the Senate, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus should both resign, and former President George W. Bush did not keep Americans safe.

Without even a smirk, Stone said the enemy is not liberals or Democrats — it is Republicans who are loyal to the national party establishment rather than to Trump. Stone focused his ire on McCain, saying while he hopes the 80-year-old recovers from brain cancer, he cannot forgive the former prisoner of war for giving a dossier containing unconfirmed intelligence reports on Trump to the FBI.

“I am tired of his red-faced antics,” Stone said. “His attacks against the president make me sick.”

He said McCain’s actions were treasonous and played into what he says is a false narrative invented by Democrats — calling it the “Russian collusion-delusion.”

Stone told the audience the entire investigation will allow Democrats to cook up phony indictments for perjury as an excuse for impeachment of Trump.

After McCain, Stone smacked Sessions.

“It is time for Jeff Sessions to go,” Stone said.

At least part of his criticism stems from Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation. With Sessions having stepped aside, Stone says it set in motion a plan to allow justice Department officials to move forward with an investigation.

“Why?” he asked. “We don’t have evidence of a crime.”

Stone also faulted Sessions for a renewed war on drugs and siding with federal prosecutors in the 2014 standoff with Cliven Bundy and his supporters.

Stone is the first of a series of planned speakers for the Pima County Republican Party designed to help raise funds.

Chew faces campaign issues

Candidate Felicia Chew has danced through a couple of tough spots this month in the campaign for the Democratic nomination for Tucson City Council in Ward 3.

In her July 13 financial disclosure, Chew noted that she had returned a $10 donation from Tucson Unified School District board member Rachael Sedgwick. She explained in the document that she is “not accepting donations from TUSD board members.”

Of course, Sedgwick has grown unpopular among many Tucson Democrats, so it was a convenient rule to apply. But it’s true that Chew herself is a middle-school teacher, which she told me Thursday was the real reason for establishing that rule.

Chew also drew some criticism after acknowledging at a forum Tuesday that she voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in the 2016 presidential election.

Chew, a Bernie Sanders supporter, said she did it under the assumption that it was a safe vote because Hillary Clinton would win the presidency anyway.

Chew also explained the fact that she has only been registered to vote in Tucson for two years by saying that she was a domestic-violence victim who didn’t like the divisiveness of politics and was involved in the community as a teacher and advocate for domestic-abuse victims.

Contact: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

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