AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Hanging over the health care discussion this week has been the health of John McCain. The Arizona Republican is away from Washington. His office announced that he had surgery late last week to remove a blood clot. This evening we learned that McCain, a six-term senator and Vietnam War hero, has brain cancer.
NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is with us. And Susan, as we mentioned, the last time we heard about this surgery, it was to remove a blood clot. Now the reports are that doctors found something more. What have you learned?
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: That tissue pathology reports revealed a glioblastoma. That's a very aggressive form of brain cancer. In a statement, the senator said he and his family are assessing their options. That includes chemotherapy and radiation. But this is a cancer for which there is no known cure.
CORNISH: So right now they have said that he's recovering. What's his status?
DAVIS: You know, in a statement, the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix where he's been treated said he's doing amazingly well, that his underlying health is very strong. His daughter Meghan McCain tweeted a statement in which she described him as being confident and calm. And she said the cancer would not make him surrender. Nothing ever has.
CORNISH: Now, as we noted, Senator McCain's surgery was one of many factors obviously in the faltering of the Senate Republican health care bill in that it initially delayed the vote - right? - that was thought to happen early this week. What do we know about just more broadly when he might actually return to the Senate?
DAVIS: You know, there's no timeline for this. And I think the next steps are figuring what his treatment is and if it's even possible for him to return to the Senate in the short term or in the long term. For now, operationally, that means that Mitch McConnell has a 51-seat Republican majority, and he's going to have to navigate these tricky policy battles with those votes alone. That makes the path to passing a health care bill even more narrow than it was before.
CORNISH: President Trump this week referred to McCain as a crusty voice in Washington. But how did his fellow senators feel about him?
DAVIS: The president also just released a statement in which he referred to McCain as a fighter. That's a word you hear about him a lot. The hero - the word coming out of the Senate tonight is hero. That is the word repeatedly used by his fellow senators and statements, both Republicans and Democrats. John McCain is an icon in the Senate, Audie. I mean you've - and reporters have a very good relationship as well, as you well know, I'm sure - one of many reporters who has interviewed him over the years.
You know, there's - reporters were staking out a health care meeting tonight on that very health care bill we were just talking about. And when the news broke of John McCain, people were audibly shocked and gasping and reacting to this news. The senators in the meeting reportedly, when they heard the news, stopped the meeting and paused for a prayer for McCain. It's really - he's - he has - occupies a really unique space in the Senate. And this diagnosis and what it could mean not only for him but for the Senate has really shocked Capitol Hill. And there's a sense of praying for his recovery and hoping to see him back on the Hill very soon.
CORNISH: Right. I mean he was of course the one-time Republican nominee. What's his role been in the Senate?
DAVIS: Right now he's the Senate armed services chairman. And the Senate - the next sort of pending order of business has been the annual defense bill. He wanted to make it back to Capitol Hill because that's his premier legislation. It's - he's very proud of it and likes to be in control of it every year. He's obviously not going to be able to make it back to monitor the defense bill. Although I'm sure, you know, he's been tweeting and - or he's been texting with senators and talking to his staff. So I'm sure he'll be in communication in the short term.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Susan Davis. Sue, thank you.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
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