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GOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling

Republicans are keeping their distance from a recent court ruling that struck down ObamaCare, as GOP lawmakers are wary of the political backlash that could ensue from scrapping the law.

Many congressional Republicans remain silent after a federal judge on Friday struck down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. And those who have spoken out largely steered clear of embracing the decision.

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The muted response illustrates how the politics of the 2010 health law have shifted, with Democrats successfully hammering Republicans during the 2018 midterms over GOP efforts to weaken the law’s pre-existing condition protections.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntBiden to meet with GOP senators amid infrastructure push Republicans embrace Trump in effort to reclaim Senate GOP attorneys general group in turmoil after Jan. 6 Trump rally MORE (Mo.), a member of Senate GOP leadership, wouldn't say this week whether he supported the judge’s decision.

“The thing to remember about the judge's ruling is it has no immediate impact,” Blunt said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

He also suggested that Democrats will have a field day with the ruling.

“Health care will be used as a political issue way beyond the ramifications of one district judge making a ruling that has no immediate impact,” Blunt said.

Indeed, Democrats seized on the judge’s decision and used it to attack Republicans, a line of criticism they said will continue into the 2020 campaign.

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“Republicans are fully responsible for this cruel decision and for the fear they have struck into millions of families across America who are now in danger of losing their health coverage,” House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSanders: Reinstating SALT deduction 'sends a terrible, terrible message' McCarthy says he supports Stefanik for House GOP conference chair Ode to Mother's Day MORE (Calif.) said in a statement.

Pelosi plans to move quickly next month to hold a vote on having the House intervene in the lawsuit, which Democrats hope will put many Republicans in tough spot. Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSanders: Reinstating SALT deduction 'sends a terrible, terrible message' Biden to meet with GOP senators amid infrastructure push The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Upbeat jobs data, relaxed COVID-19 restrictions offer rosier US picture MORE (N.Y.) said he will push for a similar vote in the Senate.

“It puts a lot of our Republicans in a box,” Schumer said Sunday on NBC.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP braces for wild week with momentous vote GOP divided over expected Cheney ouster Sunday shows - White House COVID-19 response coordinator says US is 'turning the corner' MORE (R-Ky.) has not issued a statement about the ruling.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Cornyn is most prolific tweeter in Congress so far in 2021 Schumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel MORE (Texas), the No. 2 GOP senator, declined to say Monday whether he supported the lawsuit.

“Politicians opining on what they think judges should or should not do, I don't put a lot of stock in that,” Cornyn said in response to a reporter's question.

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstConservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney A bipartisan effort to prevent the scourge of sexual assault in the armed forces Ernst defends Cheney, calls for GOP unity MORE (R-Iowa), who faces a potentially tough reelection bid in 2020, declined to discuss the ruling with a reporter in a Senate hallway on Monday, instead referring to her written statement.

“It is important that we protect people with pre-existing conditions, as we repeal and replace Obamacare,” she said in her statement.

The GOP tack is a stark contrast to previous lawsuits against ObamaCare in 2012 and 2015, which were enthusiastically supported by Republicans.

As the Affordable Care Act has become more entrenched, and after Republicans tried to undo much of its coverage expansion last year, the focus has shifted to the benefits that would be taken away if repeal efforts succeeded, such as popular protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Some Republicans, including Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality MORE (Tenn.), went so far as to say they expect Friday's ruling to be overturned on appeal.

“I believe that it will be overturned,” Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' MORE (R-Maine) said Sunday on ABC, calling the decision “far too sweeping.”

Legal experts in both parties say it is extremely unlikely that the legal challenge to the law will succeed once the ruling is appealed. While the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the next stop for the case, is considered a conservative court, some legal experts say the challenge won't go any further, meaning it won't reach the Supreme Court.

Judge Reed O’Connor, who issued Friday’s ruling, is a George W. Bush appointee. In his ruling he wrote that the law’s mandate to have coverage is unconstitutional, and therefore the rest of the law is also invalid.

Legal experts said it is obvious that Congress wanted the rest of the Affordable Care Act to remain in place because lawmakers repealed only the mandate last year, purposely leaving the rest of the law standing.

But Friday's ruling is already poised to do some damage politically.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board, a stalwart of Republican thought, warned that the ruling could “boomerang politically” on Republicans.

President TrumpDonald TrumpSanders: Reinstating SALT deduction 'sends a terrible, terrible message' GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote One quick asylum fix: How Garland can help domestic violence survivors MORE, one of the few Republicans who was enthusiastic about the decision, called the ruling “great news for America,” and urged both parties to work together on a replacement — a nearly impossible task given the divisive nature of the law.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said he would advise Republicans not to say they support the ruling, but instead talk about the broader issue of reducing health-care costs.

“Regardless of the decision, the costs are still the problem,” he said.

“Why back yourself into a corner” by taking a position on the decision, he added.