By Julian Pecquet - 03/29/12 12:24 AM EDT
The staunchest supporters of President Obama’s healthcare law kept a stiff upper lip Wednesday after the Supreme Court concluded three days of arguments that raised serious doubts about whether the law will survive.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she felt “pretty good about the merits of the case” but vowed that Democrats would “respect” whatever decision the high court reaches.
Asked to predict the outcome of the case, Pelosi said, “I have no idea — none of us does.”
The equivocal answer stood in stark contrast to her dismissive response to a reporter who questioned the mandate’s constitutionality two years ago.
“Are you serious?” she said at the time. “Are you serious?”
No matter how it rules this June, the Supreme Court is likely to create a political firestorm with its healthcare decision. Obama’s legislative legacy is on the line, along with the hopes of conservatives that the law will be vanquished after years of ardent opposition.
The White House advised Wednesday against reading too much into the tough questions that justices directed at the law during oral arguments, particularly with regard to the mandate that everyone have insurance.
“I would caution against anyone to try and make predictions,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “That’s a risky path to go down if you’re placing bets.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) likewise declared on CNN that it was “too early” to declare the court session a “train wreck.”
Republicans were positively upbeat on Wednesday, and repeatedly brought up Pelosi’s comments from 2010 as they recalled how the law’s defenders derided their legal challenge when it began two years ago.
“We feel that the three days of arguments went very well,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a key plaintiff in the case, “and we look forward to a decision in June.”
“This is historic,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who has pushed to have the law repealed. “We are grateful for these last three days that we’ve been able to engage and have this issue come before the court.”
Republicans were ecstatic Tuesday after sharp questions from swing Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested the court could strike down the insurance mandate.
The justices offered less clarity on Wednesday about whether the whole law should be stricken, offering some solace to the law’s supporters.
“It’s pretty hard to make a prediction in terms of what they are going to do,” acknowledged House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.). “It’s sort of like [a] March Madness bracket.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said the administration made a strong case Wednesday that the Supreme Court does not have to strike down the entire healthcare law if it finds the mandate unconstitutional.
The administration, she said, argued that “it’s better to have half a loaf than nothing at all and that the whole legislation should not be thrown out because there are so many parts to it.
“I think the arguments were very strong and there were many questions that led in that direction,” Schakowsky said. “And so it seems to me … that if the mandate were struck down, the rest of the law could move forward.”
Senate Democrats opted to go on offense Wednesday, suggesting a ruling against the law would tarnish the Supreme Court’s credibility.
“Everybody learns in the first year of law school, if a law is challenged it’s presumed to be constitutional. That is a heavy burden for anyone challenging the constitutionality of the law to overcome,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former attorney general.
“The court would not only have to stretch, it would have to abandon and completely overrule a lot of modern precedent, which would do grave damage to this court in credibility and power.”
Even if the court strikes down the mandate, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) added, “huge parts” of the law are provisions that Congress clearly has the authority to enact.
“I think it would be exceedingly difficult for people to suggest that what Congress has chosen to do to provide those guidelines, those programs, are suddenly going to be thrown out,” Kerry said. “There, you would have the greatest legislative act by the court, I think, in the history of the country, if they did that.”
Few Democrats seemed to agree with strategist James Carville’s suggestion on CNN that Democrats could benefit in November if the Supreme Court rules against the law.
“Mr. Carville has the freedom to make those kinds of political assessments,” said Earnest, adding that he wasn’t in a position to do the same from the White House.
Tea Party darling Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) conceded that a ruling against the healthcare law could sap some of the energy from the Republican base, but said the need to defeat Obama in November would remain just as strong.
“If ObamaCare is thrown out by the court, completely thrown out by the court, then the energy that surrounded this Capitol over and over again, the energy that filled up the Tea Parties, has less reason to coalesce, and because of that, the energy in our base may not be what it needs to be,” King told The Hill.
“But if the court throws out ObamaCare, in total or in part, and Barack Obama is reelected … he has an opportunity to make one or two appointments to the Supreme Court in his next term and he can reverse a decision by re-litigating ObamaCare.”
— Amie Parnes, Molly K. Hooper, Mike Lillis and Daniel Strauss contributed to this report.
— Last updated at 8:23 p.m.