In yet another blow to President Donald Trump's agenda, the Senate rejected a measure to repeal parts of former President Barack Obama's health care law in the early hours of Friday after a night of high suspense in the US Capitol. Unable to pass even a so-called ''skinny bill'', it was unclear if Senate Republicans could advance any health legislation despite years of promises to repeal Obamacare.
Earlier, Senate Republicans had unveiled the text of their latest alternative healthcare, dubbed "skinny bill" because only amendments in the few areas where there is consensus would be put to vote. It was presented on Thursday night by Senate Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell, but it only needed rejection by two Republicans to fail. In the event, it was rejected by 3 GOP members.
''This is clearly a disappointing moment,'' McConnell, R-Ky. ''I regret that our efforts were not enough, this time Ö it's time to move on.''
McConnell put the health bill on hold and announced that the Senate would move onto other legislation next week.
Trump responded on Twitter: ''3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!''
A key vote to defeat the measure was cast by Sen John McCain, R-Ariz, who returned to the Senate this week after receiving a diagnosis of brain cancer. In an impassioned speech the day he returned, McCain had called for bipartisanship on major issues of national concern, and a return to the ''regular order'' of legislating by committee.
Three Republicans joined with all Democrats to reject the amendment, which would have repealed a mandate that most individuals get health insurance, and would also have suspended a requirement that large companies provide coverage to their employees. It would have also delayed a tax on medical devices and denied funding to Planned Parenthood for a year.
The final vote was 49-51. Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine joined McCain in voting no.
The amendment was a last resort for Senate Republicans to pass something - anything - to trigger negotiations with the House.
''It's time to turn the page,'' said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York. ''We are not celebrating. We are relieved.''
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said in a statement the Trump administration would pursue its health care goals through regulation. ''This effort will continue,'' Price said.
The convoluted developments played out as a divided Senate debated legislation to repeal and replace the Obama-era law. With Democrats unanimously opposed, the slender 52-48 GOP majority was divided among itself over what it could agree to.
After a comprehensive ''repeal and replace'' bill failed on the Senate floor, and a straight repeal failed too, McConnell and his lieutenants turned toward the ''skinny repeal''. It would have been the ticket to negotiations with the House, which passed its own legislation in May.
But that strategy caused consternation among GOP senators after rumours began to surface that the House might just pass the ''skinny bill'', call it a day and move on to other issues like tax reform after frittering away the first six months of Trump's presidency on unsuccessful efforts over health care.
Ryan responded not long after with a far from definitive statement that blamed the Senate for being unable to pass anything, but said, ''If moving forward requires a conference committee, that is something the House is willing to do.''
''The reality, however, is that repealing and replacing Obamacare still ultimately requires the Senate to produce 51 votes for an actual plan,'' he said.
The insurance company lobby group, America's Health Insurance Plans, wrote to Senate leaders Thursday saying that ending Obama's requirement that people buy insurance without strengthening insurance markets would produce ''higher premiums, fewer choices for consumers and fewer people covered next year.''
And a bipartisan group of governors including John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada also announced against it.
On their own, the changes in the skinny bill could roil insurance markets. Yet the scenario at hand, with senators trying to pass something while hoping it does not clear the House or become law, was highly unusual. ''We're in the twilight zone of legislating,'' said Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.