Senate votes to proceed with health care bill debate

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WASHINGTON -- The Senate passed a motion to proceed with debate on the GOP health care bill Tuesday afternoon.

After seven years of Republicans vowing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and after several months of internal deliberations and setbacks, GOP lawmakers tipped the vote in favor of proceeding with debate.

Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner voted in favor of the motion, while Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet voted against the motion.

Activists protested at Gardner's Denver office in an effort to get him to vote against the bill.

Gardner  has been subpoenaed to testify about why he had health care supporters arrested in his Denver office at the end of June.

The protesters face misdemeanor trespassing charges after a sit-in style protest that lasted nearly 60 hours.

Protesters also interrupted his speech at the Western Conservative Summit on Friday.

"I voted to allow debate today because we can no longer subject Coloradans to a failing healthcare system without working toward solutions, and today’s vote will allow that debate to continue," Gardner said in a statement.

"We can now offer amendments in an open setting to fix our nation’s healthcare system and bring relief to the American people.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needed 50 of 52 Senate Republicans to support the bill, along with Vice President Mike Pence, who issued the tiebreaking vote to allow the motion to proceed.

All 48 Democrats and two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, voted against the motion.

ProgressNow Colorado, the state’s largest online progressive advocacy organization, called on Gardner to apologize to the people of Colorado for "once again putting politics over our best interests."

“Today, Republicans in Washington have taken the first step to hurt millions of their fellow Americans in the name of tax breaks for the wealthy,” ProgressNow Colorado executive director Ian Silverii said in a statement released after the vote.

“Gardner promised to deliver a replacement for Obamacare that was better, but what he voted for today would hurt millions of Americans and thousands of Coloradans -- the very same people the Affordable Care Act has helped.”

Ultimately, the vote came down to two senators -- Sen. Ron Johnson and Sen. John McCain, who is battling brain cancer and returned to the Senate to cast his vote. Both voted in favor.