John McCain discontinues medical treatment for brain cancer

Senator John McCain in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Rahmat Gul, AP)
Senator John McCain in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Rahmat Gul, AP)

US Republican Senator John McCain is discontinuing medical treatment for the aggressive brain cancer that’s kept him home in Arizona and away from the Senate this year, his family said in a statement.

In the year since being diagnosed, “John has surpassed expectations for his survival. But the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict,” his family said. “With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment.”

McCain, 81, was diagnosed in July 2017 with glioblastoma. The senator made a dramatic return to the Capitol a week after his diagnosis, casting a critical vote to allow debate to begin on legislation to repeal Obamacare. But days later he doomed the bill by voting no, earning the ire of President Donald Trump.

He hasn’t returned to the Senate since December, though he’s been active behind the scenes in crafting the National Defense Authorization Act, which was named after him by his colleagues. He’s continued to be engaged in defense and national security matters as well as to occasionally criticise Trump, with whom he’s had a rocky relationship.

Future plans

McCain was elected as a Republican to a US House seat in Arizona in 1982 and four years later won the Senate seat left open by the retirement of Barry Goldwater. The family’s statement made no mention of McCain’s plans for remaining in his Senate seat. He was last re-elected in 2016 to a sixth six-year term.

With McCain at home in Arizona the Senate’s been run by Republicans with a razor-thin 50-49 majority. But McCain’s absence has been far more than just about numbers. His voice as a counter to Trump has been limited to Twitter messages and press statements on paper instead of his usual pugnacious style in the Senate hallways and on the Senate floor.

“Very sad to hear this morning’s update from the family of our dear friend @SenJohnMcCain. We are so fortunate to call him our friend and colleague. John, Cindy, and the entire McCain family are in our prayers at this incredibly difficult hour,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Twitter.

The 2008 Republican presidential nominee, Vietnam prisoner of war and self-styled maverick of the Senate will also be remembered for his decisive, late-night thumbs down on the Republican effort to repeal some of the Affordable Care Act, despite a furious lobbying effort by Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Republican colleagues, and Trump.

Floor speech

In a dramatic speech on the Senate floor days before the final vote, McCain urged colleagues to curb hyper-partisanship and criticised party leaders for drafting their bill in secret and without Democratic input.

“Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio, television and internet,” the senator said during his speech. “To hell with them. They don’t want anything done for the public good.”

McCain would later back Trump’s tax overhaul, including the elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to buy health insurance, although Trump has repeatedly attacked him at rally after rally for his health care vote.

Russia probe

McCain was also an early supporter of investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“There are other shoes that will drop. This is a centipede,” McCain said last year. In a tweet, the senator derided Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in July as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory".

Just weeks ago, McCain backed a sweeping new Russia sanctions bill and has been the Senate’s sharpest critic of Putin, who banned him from the country.

“We must confront this challenge - not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans,” McCain said on August 2. “Because ultimately, Putin’s true aim is to undermine all of us - our country, our freedom, and all that America stands for.”

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