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White House unusually quiet before Supreme Court healthcare ruling

June 27, 2012|By Christi Parsons, Lisa Mascaro and Kathleen Hennessey
  • President Obama campaigns in Atlanta.
President Obama campaigns in Atlanta. (Jewel Samad / AFP-Getty…)

WASHINGTON — As the nation’s capital prepared Wednesday for the Supreme Court’s long-awaited ruling on President Obama’s healthcare law, the White House was unusually quiet.

The ruling on Obama’s biggest domestic accomplishment could be among the most consequential events in his presidency, but he will learn about it at the same time as the rest of the nation, receiving no advanced warning as he does for such government actions as the release of unemployment statistics.

So, a White House that so often pre-spins the news has maintained a studied silence about Obama’s plans. His staff won't even say whether he will make a public appearance or statement Thursday, a day he is scheduled to spend in meetings at the White House.

Photos: Healthcare reform's road to the Supreme Court

“I cannot speculate on all the various permutations,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

The administration, like the rest of Washington, was running high on adrenaline with no real reason to sprint. “We’re all hurry-up-and-waiting,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said.

Outside the Supreme Court, its stately neo-classical facade covered in scaffolding for an inconveniently timed improvement project, the scene was eerily serene. A few camera crews staked out spots on the front steps, tourists strolled about and there was no sign of the frenzy to come.

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But inside the Capitol, lawmakers and their aides were frenetically drawing up plans to respond to the court’s decision. Welch, after a morning jog on an unusually cool day, headed to his office to work the phones for his Plan B: legislation that would provide Medicare for all.

Throughout Washington, advocacy groups were also running through scenarios. Health policy experts traded predictions on Twitter. A tea party group prepared to live stream its views from the court steps.

What the nine justices decide could change the course of the nation’s healthcare system and the fall election. The Affordable Care Act, designed to increase the number of Americans who have access to healthcare, has become one of the most potent examples of how far apart the two political parties are on the role the federal government should play in the lives of Americans.

Democrats and Republicans alike hope to turn the decision to their advantage on the campaign trail.

Thus has Washington been turning longingly to the court for the last two Mondays and Thursdays, days the court could have handed down decisions. CSPAN — the wonk’s ESPN— has broadcast live outside of the court, showing images of protesters, passersby and journalists.

Thursday is the final day the court could issue the opinion this term.

House Speaker John A. Boehner met behind closed doors in the Capitol basement Wednesday, plotting another attempt to repeal the law, or whatever’s left of it after Thursday’s decision.

“Regardless of how the court rules,” Boehner told his troops, according to a source who was in the room, “the law is a huge issue for the American people, and it has to be repealed, completely.”

Democrats have been more muted, perhaps reflecting an unwillingness to acknowledge what may come.

Most Democrats in Congress don’t want to revisit their controversial healthcare votes right before their reelection battles. Liberal Democrats are the exception; the Congressional Progressive Caucus has already booked a news conference outside the court immediately following the ruling.

Democratic Party officials said they were waiting for the White House’s lead. The West Wing and the Obama campaign have already gamed out the options in broad strokes, officials say.

On Thursday, the White House will probably remain silent for at least 45 minutes to an hour, one official said, while everyone studies the opinion. White House lawyer Kathy Ruemmler will take the lead in discussing it with the president. Obama’s intense interest in the decision has been evident. Out of town for the oral arguments, he read the transcripts aboard Air Force One.

Despite the wait-and-see mode, some political processes continued to hum.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee invoked the father of healthcare reform, former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, in a fundraising pitch. “If he were here,” his son, former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, wrote, “he would be proud of what we were able to accomplish.”

Republicans also were raising money on the anticipation of the decision. In Texas, the campaign for Ted Cruz, a tea-party-aligned candidate in a tough GOP primary for the Senate, was asking for $27 donations — one dollar for every month the healthcare law has been on the books.

And the Obama team tried to wring out just a little more credit for passing the law. The head of the administration's health reform office posted a blog piece that may have a short shelf life. It was titled: “See How the Health Care Law is Helping People in Your State.”

Noam N. Levey and Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report from Washington.

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