Republicans in Congress aren't cheering big win in Obamacare repeal lawsuit

While some Republicans celebrated a ruling that Obamacare must be repealed, many are worried about the politics

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 17, 2018 11:30AM (EST)

Ted Cruz; Susan Collins; Mitch McConnell   (AP/Richard Drew/Andrew Harnik/Evan Vucci)
Ted Cruz; Susan Collins; Mitch McConnell (AP/Richard Drew/Andrew Harnik/Evan Vucci)

While Republicans like President Donald Trump lauded a Texas judge's decision last week that the Affordable Care Act — colloquially known as Obamacare — needed to be repealed, not everyone in the party is certain that this issue will redound to their political benefit.

"Wow, but not surprisingly, ObamaCare was just ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL by a highly respected judge in Texas. Great news for America!" Trump wrote in a tweet on Friday about the decision by Judge Reed O'Connor. He followed up on the matter on Monday with a tweet that said, "The DEDUCTIBLE which comes with ObamaCare is so high that it is practically not even useable! Hurts families badly. We have a chance, working with the Democrats, to deliver great HealthCare! A confirming Supreme Court Decision will lead to GREAT HealthCare results for Americans!"

As Politico reported on Saturday, however, not all Republicans are enthusiastic about the new decision.

Republicans have been on the defensive since the failure of their repeated efforts to dismantle Obamacare while having control of Congress and the White House. While President Donald Trump and lawmakers such as incoming House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) cheered the development, some in the party called for bipartisanship to address the failings of the country’s health care system.

Politico also quoted one House Republican aide as saying that the Texas decision was "all the downsides. Politically, I don’t think that it helps us at all." The article also described how, as a result of the decision, the Republican caucus is likely to be split between hardline conservatives who insist that Obamacare should be repealed and pragmatists who don't want to alienate voters who benefit from its provisions. That latter group will also include many Republicans who campaigned on the promise to protect people with pre-existing conditions and could face political consequences if they renege on that.

"When Democrats forced Obamacare down the throats of the American people on a purely partisan basis, they threatened that the law needed to be passed so that people could find out what was in it," House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said on Twitter on Friday. "Over the last 8 years since it was signed into law, we have found out that the Democrats who passed it caused millions of families to lose the plans and doctors they liked, and imposed unaffordable premiums and deductibles that undermine the basic coverage that families enjoy."

He added, "Not only does tonight's ruling confirm that this broken law cannot hold up under court scrutiny, but it also affirms that the law does not actually protect people with preexisting conditions. While Democrats may have won the House by running a fear-mongering campaign, unfortunately their reckless legislating has not proven to be as effective for the American people who have to live under this failed system. @HouseGOP are the only ones who have passed a sound bill that protects those with preexisting conditions, & we will keep fighting for lower premiums while ensuring families make their own health care choices &, regardless of their health status, can obtain affordable coverage."

By contrast, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told ABC News on Sunday that "He could have taking a far more surgical approach... I believe it will be overturned." Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., issued a statement on Saturday in which he said that "if the U.S. Supreme Court eventually were to agree that Obamacare is unconstitutional — which seems unlikely, however poorly the law was written — I am confident that any new federal law replacing it will continue to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions who buy health insurance."

Another dimension of the controversial case is the fact that Judge O'Connor is widely perceived as a partisan judge, raising questions about his reasoning for deciding that Obamacare must be overturned.

"Judge O’Connor’s opinion was legally indefensible from start to finish," Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School, told Salon by email. "I rarely reach this conclusion, but only a results-driven policy agenda could begin to explain his absurd conclusion that Congress’s 2017 decision to zero out the penalty for not buying the insurance mandated by the ACA while retaining the rest of the ACA somehow rendered the entire ACA unconstitutional. People who castigate judges as ‘activists’ whenever they reach liberal results had better step up to the plate and join those across the spectrum who are condemning this latest ruling as way outside the legal ballpark."

As former President Barack Obama noted on Facebook after Friday's ruling, “Republicans will never stop trying to undo” the health care law.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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