Washington (CNN)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday said no one expects the Supreme Court will strike down the Affordable Care Act, even though the likely confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the high court has both political parties anticipating that possibility when the court hears a challenge to the law next month.
McConnell made the remarks in a debate with his Democratic challenger Amy McGrath, in which he also brushed off her accusation that he hasn’t done enough to push through additional stimulus to offset the economic fallout of the coronavirus.
McGrath, speaking hours after Barrett’s first day of confirmation hearings wrapped up, warned that the fate of the health care law, popularly known as Obamacare, was at stake if she is successfully advanced to the Supreme Court. A 6-3 conservative majority could side with the Trump administration’s argument that the entire law should be struck down following efforts by Congress to chisel away at it, and Barrett has so far declined to make any public commitments as to how she would vote.
“The Affordable Care Act did a lot of good for many, many Kentuckians. I don’t want to throw it away. I want to fix it,” McGrath said, to which McConnell replied, “No one believes the Supreme Court is going to strike down the Affordable Care Act.”
“What this is really about is trying to change the subject away from this extraordinary nominee who’s before the Senate, an outstanding woman, an accomplished scholar, a judge on the 7th Circuit, a marvelous family, seven children, two of them adopted, one of them with special needs, an absolute legal all-star.”
He also said, “Every president has been surprised by how Supreme Court nominees that they’ve put up have voted,” and said he does not expect Barrett, who clerked for late Justice Antonin Scalia, to answer questions about pending cases during the hearings.
Democrats, however, have accused President Donald Trump and Republicans of seeking to add conservatives to the court who will overturn the law, and they have placed its future at the center of Barrett’s hearings.
McGrath also criticized McConnell for operating what she said is a “Senate that is so dysfunctional and so partisan” that the chamber can’t get another coronavirus relief bill done during a national crisis. McConnell shot back by blaming Democrats for not reaching an agreement and said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was being “totally unreasonable.”
“When you have a divided government, there has to be a willingness on both sides to get an agreement, and the speaker of the House has clearly not been interested in getting an outcome. That’s why the talks have gone on for a while.”
But Trump and Senate Republicans, however, have failed to agree on the scope of a new package, which has largely derailed action.
When McGrath responded that the Senate should have negotiated more instead of “going on vacation,” McConnell began to laugh.
“You knew that the coronavirus wasn’t going to end at the end of July. We knew this. And here’s the thing,” McGrath said while McConnell continued to laugh. “If you want to call yourself a leader, you got to get things done, and those of us that served in the Marines, we don’t just point fingers at the other side.”
Next month’s Supreme Court hearing on Obamacare concerns the law’s legitimacy after the Republican-led Congress cut the tax penalty for those who lacked insurance to zero as part of the 2017 tax overhaul.
Chief Justice John Roberts had previously pointed to the penalty in voting to uphold the law. But since the 2017 move, Texas and other Republican-led states sued, arguing that since the mandate was no longer tied to a specific tax penalty, it had lost its legal underpinning. They also argued that because the individual mandate was intertwined with a multitude of other provisions, the entire law should fall, including protections for people with preexisting conditions.
The Trump administration filed briefs siding with Texas for the most part, although they have made a relatively new argument that the entire law should fall but the ruling should only apply to the 18 states that brought the challenge.
Barrett on Tuesday insisted she made no commitments to the President or anyone else about how she might rule on a case aimed at dismantling the Affordable Care Act if she’s confirmed.
“Absolutely not. I was never asked and if I had been that would’ve been a short conversation,” Barrett said at Tuesday’s confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee.
McConnell has been leading polls of his reelection race in head-to-head matchups against McGrath, and Inside Elections’ Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as “solid Republican.”