McCain: Obamacare fight was 'a fool's errand'

McCain: More pressure on GOP

Efforts by House Republicans to tie the debt ceiling fight to the repeal of Obamacare sent policymakers on "a fool's errand" that ultimately resulted in a partial government shutdown that nobody wants, Sen. John McCain, told CNBC on Thursday.

Though the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress, signed by President Barack Obama and upheld by the Supreme Court, some politicians still opposed the law, including select Republicans and members of the fiscally conservative tea party.

But with Obama's reelection in 2012, "it was pretty obvious that we were not going to defund Obamacare, and we were sent on a fool's errand," the Arizona Republican said.

(Read more: Full fix to Obamacare tech problems? May take years)

Sen. John McCain
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McCain wouldn't say if the tea party is to blame for linking the debt fight to a repeal of the ACA. Rather, he attacked GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, both tea party favorites.

"We all know it was Sen. Cruz and Sen. Lee who were driving this, along with a large number of the House of Representatives," he said.

However, McCain said, the president made a "serious mistake" in not having a dialogue with Republicans for the first eight days of the shutdown. He noted that the last Democratic President, Bill Clinton, met with Republicans frequently during the shutdown in 1995.

At this point, he said the pressure is on Republicans to work with the White House to reopen the government. But he thinks the Democrats should offer some concessions, such as repealing Obamacare's medical device tax, which he said sends jobs overseas.

The message McCain repeated throughout the interview with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo is that the government needs to open. He complained that Arizona towns that rely on Grand Canyon tourism, for example, have been hard hit by its closure.

(Read more: Grand Canyon townslammed by government shutdown)

"There's too much damage, too much harm that's been inflicted on innocent people," McCain said of the shutdown.

—By CNBC's Drew Sandholm. Follow him on Twitter @DrewSandholm