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McCain: Attempt to defund Obamacare was 'fool's errand'

In an interview with Brian Williams, Sen. John McCain said lawmakers have eroded the confidence of the American people and "damaged our credibility very badly." And although many of the members of the House elected in 2010 had promised to repeal or defund Obamacare, McCain said trying to do it in this way – during the government shutdown -- was "a fool's errand." The pain inflicted on the American people "was totally unnecessary and we cannot do this again," he said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Wednesday that the budget standoff in Washington and partisan bickering have eroded the confidence of the American people and damaged the credibility of the U.S. Congress.

In an interview with NBC News' Brian Williams, McCain said some House members' determination to repeal or defund President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act during a government shutdown was “a fool’s errand.” 

"We inflicted pain on the American people that was totally unnecessary. We cannot do this again," McCain said. "We, Republicans, have a hole that we've got to come out of and obviously we're going to have to do a lot of work."

McCain, who himself opposes the president's health law, said that stubbornly pursuing the plan to destroy Obamacare during a government shutdown was an impossible task.

"So, you deceived a lot of Americans and that adds to the cynicism," he said. 

The government has been partially shut since Oct. 1 and a default on the country's debt is just around the corner if a deal isn't reached soon.

After Republicans agreed not to block a Senate bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, both houses of Congress were moving Wednesday to pass the measure. 

The bill would fund the federal government through Jan. 15 and extend its borrowing power through Feb. 7.

McCain also addressed the "polarization" and "lack of civility" on Capitol Hill on the heels of inflammatory comments made by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, on Friday, when he accused McCain of supporting al Qaeda in Syria.

"Sometimes those are, comments like that are made out of malice, but if someone has no intelligence, I don't view it as being a malicious statement," McCain said. "You can't respond to that kind of thing."

The longtime senator said he hopes lawmakers have learned a valuable lesson from the ongoing standoff.

"I think the lesson from this is there's a lot of us in the Senate and, I believe, in the House that know that the best way to address these issues is not what we just put the American people through," McCain said.

"I enjoy the good fight but the time comes when you have to do what's right for the American people," he added. 

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Lawmakers work to pass a bill that would end the first government shutdown in 17 years and prevent the government from defaulting on its debt.