The stunning collapse of President Donald Trump’s health reforms was due in large part to the defiance of two Republican women who resisted relentless White House pressure to toe the party line.
While Senator John McCain’s revolt grabbed the headlines, the votes of the lesser-known Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski proved decisive in sinking Trump’s goal of repealing Obamacare.
During his presidential run against Hillary Clinton, Trump faced flak over his behaviour and comments towards women.
And after Friday’s health debacle, critics again questioned Trump’s attempts to intimidate Collins and Murkowski, either via his top lieutenants or the bully pulpit of Twitter.
While several male Republican colleagues who voiced concerns about the direction of the repeal effort ultimately caved to Trump’s demands, it was Collins and Murkowski who stood firm.
A wavering McCain’s dramatic last-minute kibosh of the latest effort to repeal Obamacare would not have been possible without the persistence of the female senators from Maine and Alaska.
Each has faced aggressive arm-twisting and callouts by Trump, scare tactics from his cabinet, even threats of violence from a Republican congressman, Blake Farenthold, who said he would challenge “some female senators” to a duel if they were men rather than women, because they were blocking health care reform.
The mounting pressure against Collins and Murkowski served as a reminder of some of Trump’s controversies from his presidential campaign.
He smeared a female reporter, who moderated his first debate, attacked Clinton as an “enabler” for her husband’s marital infidelities, used crude banter at campaign events, and of course there was the “Access Hollywood” tape, where he was heard using graphic language to boast of assaulting women.
Now in power, he can’t shake the fact that women have blocked his singular legislative initiative.
Among the Senate’s 52 Republicans, five are women. Collins and Murkowski have been the most consistent opponents to the Obamacare repeal plans.
They both also voted against his nominee for education secretary, arguing she was not qualified for the post.
When Trump made nasty and denigrating remarks about a female MSNBC news host in June, Murkowski, age 60, and Collins, 64, led the condemnation.
“Stop it!” Murkowski blasted to him on Twitter. Collins’s reprimand was similar.
On health care, the pair argued that the various plans offered threatened to adversely impact millions of American families on Medicaid.
They also cast votes against earlier Senate plans that would have left tens of millions more Americans uninsured.
Collins’s opposition goes back to 2015, when she was the only current Republican senator, who voted against a similar partial repeal bill.
She and Murkowski were the only Republicans to oppose a motion to proceed to the health care bill debate that collapsed this week, prompting an angry tweet from Trump.
Murkowski “really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!” he said in an ominous tweet.
The intimidation ratcheted up dramatically when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called Murkowski, reportedly to warn her that the administration was prepared to withdraw its support for expanded oil drilling in Alaska and some of her other priorities.
He threatened the wrong lawmaker.
Murkowski chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and she immediately delayed several administration nominations up for the panel’s consideration.
She is no political pushover either. During Murkowski’s 2010 re-election bid, she lost her Republican primary to a Tea Party-backed challenger. Undeterred, she mounted a write-in campaign and retained her seat.
Murkowski’s and Collins’s passionate positions against their own party earned respect from across the aisle.
“Thanks for standing strong throughout,” tweeted Democratic Senator Michael Bennet.
Another Senate Democrat, Mazie Hirono, told CNN that she recently spoke with Murkowski, who offered advice about dealing with bullies: “fight back.”