White House sticks with Republican attorneys general fighting to overturn ObamaCare

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President Trump said Wednesday his administration is sticking with Republican state attorneys general who are suing to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA) after reports indicated U.S. Attorney General William Barr wanted to modify the Justice Department’s stance on the lawsuit. 

“We’re staying with Texas and the group,” Trump told reporters, referring to the coalition of GOP attorneys general, led by Texas, who argue the law is now unconstitutional because Congress repealed the penalty on individuals who don’t have health insurance in 2017.

“ObamaCare is a disaster but we’ve made it barely acceptable,” Trump added. 

CNN reported this week that Barr had pushed to modify the administration’s stance on the lawsuit to preserve parts of the law rather than fully repealing it. Filings are due Wednesday for the Supreme Court case, which is expected to be heard in the next term. 

The administration’s position on the lawsuit has changed several times since it was filed in 2018. The Justice Department said last year the entire law should be struck down after initially saying some protections should be preserved. 

Trump’s comments about standing by the lawsuit come as Democrats again seek to mobilize voters on the issue of health care ahead of the November elections by arguing the president is trying to rip away coverage from millions of Americans. That strategy helped Democrats win back the House majority in 2018, but is arguably more damaging to Trump now as the U.S. deals with a deadly pandemic. 

“The protections of the Affordable Care Act are more important than ever,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on a call Wednesday. 

“Yet, in an act of staggering cruelty and senselessness, the president is still in court suing to tear down the ACA and dismantle every one of its protections and benefits.” 

Because the Trump administration declined to defend the law against legal challenges in a break from standard protocol, Democratic attorneys general, led by California, have mounted the defense of the ACA. 

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said the coalition of 20 states and Washington, D.C., filed their briefs Wednesday with the Supreme Court, setting up the next phase in the battle over the 10-year-old health care law. 

“In defending the ACA before the Supreme Court, our goal is simple: save affordable healthcare and with it, American lives,” Becerra said in a statement. 

“The Trump Administration is choosing to walk away from its obligation to defend our nation’s laws. This is not a moment to abandon Americans who need to know they have the health coverage to protect their families from the coronavirus.”

The Supreme Court in March agreed to hear the case after the Democrats challenged a federal appeals court ruling that the mandate was unconstitutional. The appeals court punted the case back down to a lower court, which ruled in 2018 that the law is unconstitutional because it can’t stand without the mandate penalty. 

In the Democratic brief filed Wednesday, Becerra and the other attorneys general argued the benefits of the ACA have “proven indispensable in the context of the current pandemic.”

The Democrats argue the law should stand because even if the mandate is now unconstitutional, it is severable from the rest of the ACA. 

Updated at 2:52 pm.

Tags Donald Trump Nancy Pelosi Xavier Becerra

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