The Department of Justice's late-night filing, which came the same day the U.S. hit a new daily high in coronavirus infections, sided with Texas and other Republican attorneys general in arguing that the law is no longer valid. Because the 2017 tax cuts ended the individual mandate, which carried a penalty for the uninsured, the administration argued that the rest of the law should also be struck down.
"The individual mandate is not severable from the rest of the act," the filing said. "The remainder of the ACA should not be allowed to remain in effect."
A federal judge in Texas previously ruled in favor of the Republican lawsuit, but the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the law from being struck down while it reviews the case. The high court is expected to rule on the case next term, meaning it could be heard as soon as October. The Trump administration asked the court not to take up the case ahead of this fall's elections. Democrats, believing that the lawsuit would be defeated, urged the court to quickly issue a ruling.
The filing came days after Trump declared that he would "always protect people with pre-existing conditions" on Tuesday. It includes a section "explicitly arguing" the pre-existing condition protections should be struck down, according to NBC News' Sahil Kapur.
Trump has claimed that Obamacare would be replaced with a bill that would protect pre-existing conditions, but the White House has not offered even a framework of any replacement bill. The administration's previous attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare failed multiple times in Congress despite Trump's repeated campaign promise to kill the law.
If the Supreme Court sides with the Trump administration and Republicans, an estimated 20 million people would lose their health coverage in the middle of a pandemic which has already killed more than 120,000 people in the U.S. It also comes amid a deep recession, which has resulted in tens of millions of layoffs and people losing their employer-based health coverage. Many of those individuals have benefited from Obamacare's health care marketplaces and the law's Medicaid expansion.
Americans overwhelmingly favor provisions in the law which allow young adults to stay on their parents' health plan until they turn 26, the health care exchanges, as well as financial subsidies, the Medicaid expansion and other key provisions in the law, according to polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Even some Republican lawmakers have called to drop the issue over concerns about political blowback. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the Senate health committee, rejected the Justice Department's argument as "far-fetched."
"Politically, it's pretty dumb to be talking about how we need to repeal Obamacare in the middle of a pandemic," Republican strategist Joel White told The New York Times.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said there was "no legal justification and no moral excuse" for the Trump administration's filing.
"President Trump and the Republicans' campaign to rip away the protections and benefits of the Affordable Care Act in the middle of the coronavirus crisis is an act of unfathomable cruelty," she said in a statement. "If President Trump gets his way, 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions will lose the ACA's lifesaving protections and 23 million Americans will lose their health coverage entirely."
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden rebuked the administration for its "cruel" and "heartless" filing during a speech in Pennsylvania.
"If Donald Trump has his way, complications from COVID-19 could become a new pre-existing condition. Some survivors will experience lasting health impacts like lung scarring and heart damage, and if Donald Trump prevails in court, insurers would be allowed to strip away coverage or jack up premiums simply because of their battle with the coronavirus," he said. "If Donald Trump won't end his senseless crusade against health coverage, I look forward to ending it for him."
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra touted the law as vital to protecting Americans of color, noting that Black Americans are four times more likely to be hospitalized from the new coronavirus.
"The ACA has been life-changing and now through this pandemic, we can all see the value in having greater access to quality health care at affordable prices," he said at an event with Biden on Wednesday. "Now is not the time to rip away our best tool to address very real and very deadly health disparities in our communities."
"It was wrong anytime," he added. "Now, it's beyond stupid."