White House sends signals of optimism ahead of Supreme Court decision

Hours before one of the most critical moments of the Obama presidency and his reelection bid, White House aides on Wednesday sought to convey a message of cautious optimism that the Supreme Court would agree that the healthcare law is constitutional.

All day, White House aides seemed to telegraph a wait-and-see attitude, aiming to tamp down speculation they are obsessed with the Supreme Court’s ruling on healthcare, President Obama’s signature legislation.

“We await the decision, as everyone does,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at a briefing dominated by questions on healthcare and Thursday’s other big story, the House contempt vote for Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderJames Comey and Andrew McCabe: You read, you decide Eric Holder headed to New Hampshire for high-profile event Holder: 'Our democracy is under attack' MORE.

But Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the White House had to be on edge behind the scenes. 

"My guess is they’re not sleeping real well at the White House tonight — that’s the way it ought to be!" he said at a campaign event in Virginia. Romney said that if he's elected president, "We're going to get rid of ObamaCare and replace it with real reform."

During the daily briefing at the White House, Carney was asked a series of questions about what might happen if the healthcare law is splintered and the law’s mandate is overturned, but refused to entertain the ideas.

“I cannot speculate on all the various permutations that have been put forward by really smart people in the press,” Carney told reporters. “I think we just have to wait.”

Obama — who is expected to make remarks about the decision at some point after the Supreme Court decision is released — didn’t mention the ruling Wednesday on a day that included a closed-door lunch with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed and a private campaign fundraiser at a Washington hotel.

And he strayed from the topic later in the day while playing host at a picnic for lawmakers at the White House.

But speaking at a fundraiser in Miami on Tuesday night, Obama did ramp up his message, blatantly telling supporters in no uncertain terms that healthcare reform was “the right thing to do.”

“I believe it was right to make sure that over three million young people can stay on their parent’s health insurance plan,” he said to rowdy applause. “I believe it was right to provide more discounts for seniors on their prescription drugs. I believe it was right to make sure that everybody in this country gets decent healthcare and is not bankrupt when they get sick.

“That’s what I believe,” he continued. “But it’s up to you. You decide.”

On Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Republicans also prepared for the court’s decision, vowing to move quickly if the court upholds certain parts of the law.

“We’ve made it pretty clear and I’ll make it clear one more time: If the court does not strike down the entire law, the House will move to repeal what’s left of it,” House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSome doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP Lobbying World McCarthy courts conservatives in Speaker's bid MORE told reporters.

BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSome doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP Lobbying World McCarthy courts conservatives in Speaker's bid MORE (R-Ohio) added that, “ObamaCare” is driving up the cost of healthcare and making it harder for small businesses to hire new workers.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was also using Thursday’s unknown decision to rev up the base, nearly four months away from Election Day.

“On Thursday, the Supreme Court will rule on Health Care Reform,” an email from the DCCC read. “No matter how they come down, we’ve got to show that we’re behind the President on this. If you agree that access to health care should always be a right — not a privilege — sign this petition to stand with President Obama.”

At the White House on Wednesday, Carney explained that the White House would be ready for the decision that is expected to come down on Thursday morning, and laughed off a question about the White House setting up a so-called “War Room” to handle the landmark decision. He maintained that the White House would not have a heads-up on the decision.

“We find out the same way everyone else does — we turn on radios and televisions, we go on SCOTUSBlog,” the White House spokesman said, referring to the website that live-blogs the high court’s rulings. “We will await the decision and learn of it at the same time you do.”

But before leaving the briefing room before a packed crowd of reporters, Carney alluded to the magnitude of the decision that awaits the White House.

“Everybody can have tomorrow off,” he quipped.

—Russell Berman and Justin Sink contributed to this report.

This story was updated at 5:45 p.m.