Cruz: Democrats want to pack court with judges to protect ObamaCare

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Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzDem lawmakers rally Muslims against Trump Anti-Clinton super-PAC looks to inflame intraparty tension with Sanders backers The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Texas), the Senate’s leading critic of the Affordable Care Act, denounced a vote Thursday to prohibit filibusters against appellate court nominees as a scheme to save the healthcare law.

“The heart of this action is directed at packing the D.C. Circuit because that is the court that will review the lawless behavior of the Obama administration implementing ObamaCare,” he said.

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“President Obama and the administration refuse to follow the plain text of the law, and the D.C. Circuit is the court of appeals that has been holding the administration accountable."

Cruz said the rule change, which passed Thursday with 50 Democratic votes, “was designed to pack that court with judges that they believe will be a rubber stamp.”

The vote to pass the rules change was 52-48, with the two independents, Sens. Angus KingAngus KingClinton VP pick could face liberal ire Independent Sen. Angus King endorses Clinton McCain: Inaction on encryption 'furthering the cause of child pornographers' MORE (Maine) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump video: Bernie 'caved' Anti-Clinton super-PAC looks to inflame intraparty tension with Sanders backers Reid faces Sanders supporters' fury at DNC MORE (Vt.), voting with the Democrats, and three Democrats voting against the change.

The addition of three Democratic-appointed judges to the 11-seat court would shift its ideological balance, which had been tilted to the right. This could have significant implications for the new healthcare law because the court has primary jurisdiction over many federal regulatory matters.

Other Republican senators also expressed concern that a Democratic bias on the court would make it harder to halt the implementation of ObamaCare. 

Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoMcAuliffe: I wouldn't want a 'caretaker' in Kaine's Senate seat Goonies, Pokemon and ‘transsexual shake’ speak to raucous scene at convention GOP passes rules vote over outcry from Trump opponents MORE (Wyo.), the chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said the next stage of battling the law’s implementation would take place in the D.C. Circuit.

“Lawsuits affecting the healthcare law will go through this court, and if the president is able to pack this court, it’s his effort to try to defend a law the American people don’t like and believe they can’t afford,” he said. 

Republicans are planning hearings in the House Judiciary Committee to scrutinize whether Obama has adhered to the Constitution, according to a member of the panel.

Democrats rejected the GOP accusations Thursday. They argued that Republicans are trying to tie the battle over judicial nominees to the Affordable Care Act in an effort to distract attention from their obstructionist tactics.

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerConvention shows Democrats support fracking, activists on the fringe Dem ad blasts Indiana senate candidate on Social Security The Trail 2016: Unity at last MORE (N.Y.), the third-ranking Senate Democratic leader, said Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellPeter Thiel does not make the GOP pro-gay Reid: Trump is a 'hateful con man' McAuliffe: Clinton won't move TPP without changes MORE (Ky.) “doesn’t want to address the filibusters; he doesn’t want to address the rules changes, so three quarters of his speech is dedicated to ObamaCare.” 

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidReid: Trump 'may have' broken the law with Russia remarks Senator slams Reid for 'dangerous game' on Trump briefings Reid faces Sanders supporters' fury at DNC MORE (D-Nev.) said Democrats were entirely motivated by a desire to break Senate gridlock.

“The changes that we made today will apply equally to both parties. When Republicans are in power, these changes will apply to them as well,” he said. “That’s something both sides should be willing to live with to make Washington work again.”

The Senate voted to change the chamber’s rules to exempt executive and most judicial branch nominees from filibusters, effectively lowering the threshold for confirmation to 51 votes. The modification does not affect Supreme Court nominees.

The change could help Obama implement the law in other ways. It has immediately improved the chances of confirming nominees to the Independent Payment Advisory Board. The 15-member panel, one of the most controversial facets of the law, has responsibility for curbing the cost of Medicare. The administration had little hope for setting up the board before Thursday’s rule change.

The change would also give Obama more flexibility in deciding whether to replace Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusFighting for assisted living facilities The chaotic fight for ObamaCare California exchange CEO: Insurers ‘throwing ObamaCare under the bus’ MORE, who has received a large portion of blame for the law’s botched rollout. 

Prior to this week, any effort to replace Sebelius would have had to contend with the daunting prospect of moving her successor through a contentious Senate confirmation process. Now if Obama picked someone else to take the department’s helm, he or she would have a much better chance of a speedy confirmation.

Sen. Tom HarkinTom HarkinGrassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Do candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? MORE (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he has not even contemplated Sebelius stepping down.

Ten Republican senators, including Sen. Pat RobertsPat RobertsMeet the rising GOP star who already enrages the left Senators ask IRS to issue guidance to help startups GOP makes new push on wildfire bills MORE (Kan.), her home-state senator, sent a letter to Obama earlier this month calling for her resignation.