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Story highlights

Johnson suggested McCain's dissenting vote on health care might have been influenced by his recent brain cancer surgery

He quickly distanced himself from the comments

(CNN) —  

Sen. Ron Johnson on Thursday walked back controversial remarks he made about Sen. John McCain earlier in the week when he suggested the Arizona Republican’s dissenting vote on health care might have been influenced by his recent brain cancer surgery.

Speaking on CNN’s “New Day,” Johnson, R-Wisconsin, explained that he was “just expressing sympathy,” and that McCain was “not impaired in any way, shape or form” when he cast his crucial “no” vote on health care reform late last month.

On Tuesday, Johnson had suggested in a radio interview that McCain’s brain tumor and the early morning hours may have affected his vote on the Senate bill to repeal Obamacare.

“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 on AM560 “Chicago’s Morning Answer.”

Seemingly shocked, a radio host responded “really?” to Johnson’s comments and asked if he really believed McCain’s brain tumor might have factored into his judgment.

“Again, I-I-I don’t know exactly what – we really thought – and again I don’t want speak for any senator,” Johnson responded. “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 have talk to John in terms what was on his mind.”

In response, McCain spokeswoman Julie Tarallo said in a statement to CNN that Johnson’s comments were “bizarre and deeply unfortunate.”

“It is bizarre and deeply unfortunate that Senator Johnson would question the judgment of a colleague and friend. Senator McCain has been very open and clear about the reasons for his vote,” she said.

Johnson began distancing himself from the comments on Wednesday, saying he was “disappointed I didn’t more eloquently express my sympathy for what Sen. McCain is going through.”

He added to those thoughts on CNN Thursday morning.

“A lot of us had a real problem with that skinny repeal, and we weren’t going to vote for it until we got that assurance from (House Speaker Paul Ryan). Listen, I was trying to defend his position and truthfully express my sympathy for his health condition. Again, I reached out to John, I’m hoping to talk to him today. I have the greatest respect for John McCain,” Johnson said on “New Day.”

Johnson was also asked by anchor Chris Cuomo whether he thought McCain’s cancer should be an issue.

“No, absolutely,” Johnson said. “I was just expressing sympathy for his condition. Again, I’ve got the greatest respect for John McCain. He’s not impaired in any way, shape or form.”

McCain voted no on the so-called skinny repeal, explaining in a radio interview last week that he disagreed with the process leading up to the vote and saying he supported repealing Obamacare but with an immediate replacement. McCain returned to the Senate to vote on health care-related legislation after a surgery to remove a blood clot revealed he had brain cancer.