The two sides of John McCain

It was an extraordinary moment on the floor of the U.S. Senate this afternoon when Sen. John McCain took to the lectern to criticize what he’d just done, voting to “continue debate” on the Republican health care bill, which, so far, doesn’t exist.

It was vintage McCain, who flew to Washington today, days after it was announced he has brain cancer, doing one thing, then demanding greater principles from others moments later, scolding the process that he just supported.

With Aaron Sorkin-like prose masking a John McCain-like vote, the senator angrily called for open hearings on a bipartisan health care bill “with contributions from both sides”, and then asserted — incorrectly — “something that my dear friends on the other side of the aisle didn’t allow to happen nine years ago.”

The moment was uniquely McCain, seeming to fully embrace and personify the desire for a bipartisan approach to governing, and then quickly retreating before he could have any substantial influence on the subject.

It was a strange aside, coming as it did moments after he helped Senate Republicans keep a secretive effort alive to repeal health care coverage. The Arizona senator could’ve punished the process to which he objected. With his vote, he enabled it anew.

“Let’s trust each other,” he declared. “Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires.”

McCain then declared “I will not vote for this bill as it stands today.” There is, so far, no bill to vote on, however.

“It’s a shell of a bill right now. We all know that,” he said. “I have changes urged by my state’s governor that will have to be included to earn my support for final passage of any bill. I know many of you will have to see the bill changed substantially for you to support it.”

But the biggest applause for McCain came when he said, “Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and the television and the internet. To hell with them! They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.”

McCain said he’ll return to Arizona for treatment of his cancer and hopes to return to Washington someday.

“I have every intention of returning here and giving many of you cause to regret all the nice things you said about me,” he said.