Ruling a victory for Obama as he heads into tough election

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the healthcare law and rule President Obama’s controversial, landmark legislation as constitutional is an enormous victory for the White House ahead of a presidential election thought by many to be deadlocked.

Obama will speak about the ruling at 12:15 p.m. in the East Room of the White House.

As the decision came down Thursday, White House staffers gathered in press secretary Jay Carney's office with the door closed in what aides quipped was their "war room." The press office was virtually deserted as people awaited word on the Supreme Court’s decision.

Obama had been scheduled to be in the Oval Office when the decision came down. But White House reporters were temporarily held near Carney's office as Obama apparently made his way from the residence to the West Wing. 

White House aides, seemingly satisfied by the decision, said they wouldn't comment on the mood inside Carney's office at the time of the decision, preferring to let Obama speak first on the landmark ruling. 

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Thursday's ruling and the decision to keep the mandate — the crux of the law — intact is expected to invigorate Obama’s supporters and will surely boost morale on the president’s team at the White House and campaign headquarters in Chicago on the heels of a rocky month for Obama.

“We knew all along that the law was constitutional,” one White House aide said. “We said it then in the face of all the criticism we got. We’re saying it now. We never had any doubt.”

A former senior administration official familiar with the president’s thinking said despite the constant controversy surrounding the law, Obama still sees its passage as one of the most important — if not the most important — accomplishments of his time in office, “without question.”

That may be true but the healthcare law — the centerpiece of Obama’s domestic agenda for much of Obama’s first term — remains unpopular with the American public, with some Democrats accusing the White House of doing a bad job selling it. In recent months, as he’s begun to hit the campaign trail, Obama has only mentioned the law in passing instead of highlighting it as one of his monumental achievements.

“It’s been very difficult for Obama to campaign on because polling behind it has been 2-to-1 [against it], and people have this sense that they don’t like it,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University.

But Jillson and other observers say the high court’s decision on Thursday could also motivate conservatives to hit the polls this fall to push Obama out of office.

“The Republicans will make more use of it then the Democrats,” Jillson said. “They’ll use it to really rally their party.”

One healthcare strategist agreed with that premise: “It will definitely rev up some people at the margins,” the strategist said. “I’m sure it will inspire some on the right to campaign even harder for Mitt Romney.”

But Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said while the decision will likely provide an automatic boost to the Obama administration and a ratification of their policies, it leaves Democrats with little more.

“If the healthcare law was so popular, the president’s approval rating would be through the roof,” Bonjean said.

Now that the healthcare law is upheld, Obama’s opponents are expected to launch another round of lawsuits on other provisions — which some predict could take years.

Since the Supreme Court heard arguments on the law back in April, Obama expressed confidence that the law was a good one and that it would be upheld.

“Ultimately, I am confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress,” Obama told reporters at a press conference.

Even so, Jillson and other observers say the Supreme Court decision is indeed “a dodged bullet” for the Obama administration and Democrats.

And even with the court victory, Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons predicted that Obama still wouldn’t spend more time campaigning on the issue.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that talking about health care reform will increase the president’s chances of being reelected,” he said. “The American people have already factored in healthcare. It’s baked in the cake.”

— This story was last updated at 11:30 a.m.