Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson implied that Senator John McCain's recent brain cancer diagnosis and the health care vote's late-night hour might have affected the Arizona senator's judgment.
"Again, I'm not going to speak for John McCain. He has a brain tumor right now; that vote occurred at 1:30 in the morning. Some of that might have factored in," Johnson said in comments on a radio program on Tuesday.
A radio host for the program, Chicago's Morning Answer, responded with a stunned, “Really? I mean, he just had recovered from getting the brain tumor removed and then flew all the way to Washington, D.C., but you really think that that played a factor in his judgment call?"
After a pause, Johnson appeared to rethink what he just said. He immediately started to walk his statement back, saying haltingly, "Again, I don't know exactly what — we really thought that — and again, I don't want to speak for any senator. I really thought John was going to vote yes to send that to conference at 10:30 at night. By about 1, 1:30, he voted no. So you'd have talk to John in terms of what was on his mind."
After CNN reported on Johnson's comments on Wednesday, the senator's backpedaling continued: "I'm disappointed I didn't more eloquently express my sympathy for what Senator McCain is going through. I have nothing but respect for him and the health care vote came at the end of a long day for everyone," he said in a statement.
A McCain spokesperson, Julie Tarallo, responded with a statement: "It is bizarre and deeply unfortunate that Senator Johnson would question the judgment of a colleague and friend." By midday Wednesday, Johnson was taking serious flak for his remarks from all quarters.
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Johnson is a conservative Republican from the northeast Wisconsin city of Oshkosh. He surprised many political analysts in the state when he was re-elected in 2016, surviving a tough challenge from former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold.
Opponents to the Republican health care plan lauded McCain for scuttling what would have been a rolling disaster for millions and their insurance coverage under whatever haphazard plan followed the "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act. But McCain's "thumbs-down" apparently earned him enmity among hardliners such as Johnson.
Johnson is also not the first to speculate wildly about McCain's cancer diagnosis. The internet — Trump supporters, specifically — went crazy with various harebrained theories about why and how McCain had been diagnosed when he did.