McCain returning to Washington on eve of next Senate health care vote

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said he will return to work this week, just days after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer. His return comes as the Senate is preparing to consider proposals to reform health care. (Photo by Ben Moffat/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Less than a week after he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer, Arizona Sen. John McCain will return to Washington Tuesday, his office announced Monday night.

McCain has hardly been inactive during his recovery from surgery to remove a blood clot over his left eye that led to the cancer diagnosis: He has been active on social media, tweeting several times a day, has issued statements on health care reform and Syria policy, and went hiking over the weekend with friends and family.

But the announcement that he was coming back Tuesday “to continue working on important legislation,” did not come as a surprise to those who have worked with McCain.

Former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe, a longtime friend of McCain’s, called the 80-year-old senator “driven.” He said McCain kept such long hours that he needed two interns – one in the morning and another in the afternoon – just to keep up.

A former intern agreed. Kourtney Balsan, who served as a communications intern in McCain’s last re-election campaign, said he “worked all the time.”

“He outworked us all,” said Balsan, who is now a floor director for Cronkite News. “If he wasn’t in the office, then he was making calls or going to community events and a lot of other things senators do. He has a very strong work ethic.”

That work ethic was cited by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who said of McCain on CNN last week that, “When you travel with John McCain, you get up early and you work until late at night because that’s who he is.”

McCain returns as the Senate is scheduled to take a procedural vote Tuesday on health care reform. The measure has moved haltingly through the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week put off one vote because of McCain’s absence.

With Democrats unified in their opposition to any attempt to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, Republicans can afford to lose only a handful of their members on a reform bill.

McCain has not said how he would vote. But after one GOP bill fell through last week while he was recuperating, McCain released a statement expressing his discontent at how Republicans proceeded along party lines, which he said was a “problem” tactic used by Democrats when they pushed through the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

He wrote that Republicans should “receive input from members of both parties” to produce a bill providing Americans with access to quality and affordable health care.

McConnell has said he will ask the Senate to vote Tuesday on a procedural motion that would let it consider the House reform bill that passed in May, but was on hold while the Senate attempted to craft its own version of the bill.

McCain’s office said Monday evening that he looked forward to getting back to the Senate “to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea.”

Balsan was not surprised.

“If anyone can beat (cancer) … it’s him,” she said. “Let’s not forget his mom is still alive at 105. We call her Mama McCain.”