Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Monday that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had been “getting forgetful” before he underwent surgery related to a blood clot last week — surgery that has put Congress’ top agenda items on hold and is likely to raise questions about McCain’s health. Graham later walked his comment back saying he misspoke, according to CNN.
McCain, 80, who has given no indication that he intends to retire, went under the knife Friday to remove a blood clot from above his right eye and is currently resting in Arizona. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that there will be no vote on the Senate healthcare bill until the octogenarian recovers.
But Graham, McCain’s closest ally in the Senate, told CNN Monday that McCain had not been feeling well leading up to the surgery:
“I think it was a routine check But John had not been feeling good, he’d been traveling a lot and we wrote it off as him being tired but he was getting forgetful and, you know, he had just worn himself out traveling all around the world and I’m glad they found out what I think was the cause,” he told CNN’s Manu Raju.
He added that he spoke to the 2008 Republican presidential nominee Sunday and that “he was like the old John McCain and much more engaged in conversation.” Raju later reported that Graham said he “misspoke” and didn’t mean to say McCain had been getting forgetful.
Lindsey Graham told me he misspoke and didn't mean to say McCain was getting "forgetful." Says McCain is better now. https://t.co/ecR3Cj7thP
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 17, 2017
But Graham’s comments are likely to raise further questions about McCain’s health and about whether he should retire.
Arizona State Senator Kelli Ward, who challenged McCain in the 2016 primary, raised concerns about McCain’s health last year — saying he had gotten “weak” and accused him of “falling down on the job.”
Questions were raised this year when McCain became apparently confused during the questioning of former FBI Director James Comey at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in June. He later laughed off concern about his line of questioning by saying he had stayed up too late watching baseball the night before.
And while the surgery was initially presented as being minimally invasive, other experts have weighed in suggesting it could be significantly more serious than first believed.
The New York Times cited experts Monday who said the recovery time is normally a few weeks, although such a procedure is rarely life-threatening.
“Usually, a blood clot in this area would be a very concerning issue,” said Dr. Nrupen Baxi, an assistant professor of neurosurgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, told the Times.
CNN Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta also suggested that McCain would be recovering for a few weeks, and noted that the operation involved opening up the bone to get access to the brain.
As McCain recovers, McConnell’s decision to put the Senate healthcare bill vote on ice until McCain is back in Washington means a significant chunk of the congressional agenda is treading water until then.
McConnell is reliant on McCain’s recovery for the unpopular bill to pass. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have both said they do not intend to vote for the bill, leaving McConnell with no wiggle room for the bill to pass.
But not only does this leave arguably the most important piece of legislation on the Senate’s agenda in limbo, but Republicans have also said that tax reform — the second most important agenda item — cannot go forward until ObamaCare is repealed.
Bloomberg explains that this is because healthcare reform relies on the 2017 budget resolution. Tax reform will be dealt with in the 2018 budget, and can’t be acted on until the 2017 budget is either passed or discarded.
“The schedule that we have here is very aggressive, and we can’t get to tax reform until we do this,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said in March.
In turn, this means that both tax reform and health care votes are theoretically suspended and dependent on McCain’s recovery. It also raises the possibility that during the delay, McConnell may lose more senators – meaning both health care and tax reform would be thrown into chaos.
McCain tweeted Saturday that he is looking forward to getting back to work.
Thanks to @MayoClinic for its excellent care – I appreciate your support & look forward to getting back to work! https://t.co/eUkFr7jKYB
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) July 16, 2017
Adam Shaw is a Breitbart News politics reporter based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY