Trump’s new legal brief offers fresh ammunition to Democrats and their presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, who believe their advantage on health care will help the party retake the White House and possibly the Senate this fall. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced plans to vote on legislation building on the Affordable Care Act, timing the bill to draw a contrast with Trump’s legal attack on the law during the coronavirus emergency.
The Trump-backed lawsuit, brought by a group of Republican-led states, puts at risk health insurance for more than 20 million people covered by Obamacare, as well as insurance protections for people with preexisting medical conditions. Biden during a Thursday campaign event attacked Trump for seeking to upend those protections when a growing number of coronavirus survivors are developing potentially long-term health complications.
“They would live their lives caught in a vise between Donald Trump’s twin legacies: his failure to protect the American people from the coronavirus, and his heartless crusade to take health care protections away from American families,” Biden said.
House Democrats, who are leading Obamacare’s legal defense alongside Democratic state attorneys general, two years ago won back the chamber by running on a health care law that’s grown more popular since Republicans’ failed repeal effort during Trump’s first year in office. Powerful health care industry groups have also rallied to defend the law, which has largely boosted their profits, as they also try to fend off the left’s push for “Medicare for All” and other broader expansions of government-backed coverage.
Trump has insisted that his predecessor’s signature legislative achievement must be overturned, despite the public health emergency. Shortly after Covid-19 emerged, Trump refused to reopen the law’s health insurance marketplaces to make it easier for uninsured people to get coverage, despite pleas from Democrats and some moderate Republicans.
“What we want to do is terminate it and give health care,” Trump said in the Oval Office last month when he announced his administration would continue battling Obamacare in court. “We’ll have great health care, including preexisting conditions.”
However, Republicans haven’t agreed on a replacement since the repeal effort fell short, and previous GOP plans would have weakened robust Obamacare protections barring insurers from charging more or denying coverage based on a patient’s medical history. Administration health officials have said they won’t put forward an alternative plan unless the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare.
The Supreme Court, which upheld the health care law in the two previous major challenges, will hear the lawsuit this fall but is unlikely to issue a decision before the Nov. 3 election. Some Republicans fear the lawsuit could cost them at the ballot, given the party’s failure to agree on an Obamacare replacement.
House Democrats think the issue will go a long way in helping them expand their majority. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said health care tops the polling of voter concerns in the 42 swing districts the party’s trying to hold onto as well as 45 districts it’s trying to flip.
“We can tell you that health care is the number one issue in swing districts all over the country, and that makes us feel pretty good from a political perspective — not only that it’s the number one issue but that Republicans are on the losing end,” she told POLITICO.
The administration’s legal strategy has split top aides, with some seeing the lawsuit as Trump’s last chance to make good on his pledge uproot Obamacare. But two prominent Cabinet members, Attorney General Bill Barr and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, both opposed the administration’s decision to fully back the lawsuit. Barr last month unsuccessfully tried to convince the White House to soften its legal attack on Obamacare because of the pandemic.
The lawsuit from red states was filed over two years ago and was initially seen as a long shot. But it gained momentum after a conservative federal judge in Texas ruled in the states’ favor. The Trump administration had originally asked the courts to strike just the law’s insurance protections before broadening its legal attack last year following the Texas judge’s ruling.