It was already an epic level of tense. And hot. The sheer number of people (most of the Senate and a lot of staff) standing on the floor for several hours was raising the temperature. And the lawmakers were uncomfortable.
In that atmosphere, Senate Republicans released a final health care proposal and announced a vote would be just two hours away. At midnight. (Of course at midnight.)
Once that voting started, the minute-to-minute drama was riveting.
12:21 a.m. | Senate starts voting on the GOP’s “skinny” repeal. First vote: the Democratic motion to send it back to committee. This is not expected to be dramatic.
12:24 a.m. | At this point, Sen. John McCain is standing with Senator Lindsey Graham and John Hoeven. He soon talks to and laughs with Georgia’s David Perdue.
12:26 a.m. | Democrats are nearly all here, all in their seats. They are subdued. Quiet. Republicans have barely started to trickle in.
12:34 a.m. | McCain is in his seat and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, one of two Republicans expected to vote no, starts to talk. McCain makes a thumbs down motion to Murkowski but few notice it.
12:35 a.m. | Senators Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are eyeballing some documents that have the look of legislative drafts. Johnson at one point looks over toward McCain.
12:40 a.m. | Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the other expected no vote, has now joined McCain and Murkowski. It is a lively conversation. Soon fellow Arizona Republican Jeff Flake sits down on the other side of McCain.
12:43 a.m. | A rarity. Vice President Pence is not on the dais but has walked over to join the conversation with McCain, Collins and Murkowski. He leans in across McCain’s desk at times.
12:45 a.m. | Leader Mitch McConnell and his number two, Senator John Cornyn of Texas are in a huddle with McCain’s friend Sen. Lindsey Graham. Democrats are becoming more lively.
12:48 a.m. | A staffer reminds the press corps not to run up the stairs if the bill suddenly fails. “People could get hurt,” someone comments.
12:50 a.m. | McCain shakes Pence’s hand. The conversation keeps going.
12:51 a.m. | A reporter leaning over the balcony to see McCain’s conversation drops her notebook. It hits South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, below.
12:54 a.m. | Cornyn is pacing.
12:55 a.m. | Pence has been talking with McCain for 12 minutes. The current vote on complete hold.
12:59 a.m. | Cornyn is talking with Kansas Senator Pat Roberts. Roberts hits his head with his hand (almost V-8! style). He looks at McCain and seems aggravated.
1:02 a.m. | Pence leaves McCain. They had been speaking for nearly 20 minutes.
1:09 a.m. | McCain stands up and walks across the Senate floor to Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. Soon some 13 Democrats have circled around. He smiles, throws his hands up and soon after hugs California Senator Dianne Feinstein.
1:10 a.m. | Republicans are looking more tired and some openly glum.
1:16 a.m. | Pence is back talking with McCain again. McCain touches his heart at one point and then leaves to take a phone call.
1:20 a.m. | McConnell and Cornyn are having a serious-looking talk at Cornyn’s desk.
1:24 a.m. | Republicans decide to end the current vote, on a motion to send the bill back to committee. That vote fails.
1:24 a.m. | The final vote on the “skinny” or Freedom Health Care Act begins.
1:26 a.m. | Democrats are starting to get on their feet, standing as if witnessing the final minutes of a nailbiter basketball game.
1:28 a.m. | West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has crossed the aisle, talking with Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
1:28 a.m. | McCain reenters the chamber. Across the room, many Democrats are standing. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., leans right, then left, to see him.
1:29 a.m. | McCain gives a thumbs down, voting no. A collective gasp and a few claps from Warren and others erupt in the chamber.
1:35 a.m. | Several staffers against the back wall appear to be biting their fingernails.
1:39 a.m. | The vote ends with the GOP bill and health care debate in defeat. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana is hanging his head, with his hands on his desk.
1:40 a.m. | McConnell speaks dramatically about his disappointment. Republicans seem drained. Democrats are serious and stone-faced.