Representative Keith Ellison, left, smiles as Democrats hold a press conference outside the Supreme Court on Thursday. Photo by George Zornick
The deeply hated “Obamacare” survived almost entirely intact, and—once they finally understood what happened, after furiously refreshing their smartphones or participating in a wonky game of telephone—the assembled Tea Partiers outside the Supreme Court appeared shellshocked. The group prayers and chants of “Freedom forever, tyranny never!” briefly fell silent.
Soon, their elected leaders appeared to tell them how angry they ought to be. Tea Party star Representative Steve King, who has previously warned that the Affordable Care Act was an attempt to “nationalize our soul,” said that “What I’m seeing is making me sick to my stomach.” Representative Jeff Landry called it a “tragic day for our republic.” Representative Louie Gohmert—who believes that healthcare reform “is going to absolutely kill senior citizens” and will “put them on lists and force them to die early”—made a thinly veiled call to impeach Obama, members of Congress who support the reforms, and even Supreme Court justices–and he made that call explicit moments later, away from the microphones. (Representative Phil Gingrey spoke next and quickly disavowed any push to remove Supreme Court justices.) Michele Bachmann called the decision incomprehensible and sad.
The crowd quickly came back to life, with loud proclamations that they would not obey the now-constitutional mandate. This energy and anti-Obamacare fervor was crucial to the Republican takeover of the House in 2010, and the Republicans outside the Supreme Court were eager to rev it right back up again.
Accordingly, House majority leader Eric Cantor quickly announced that the House will hold a vote on a full repeal of healthcare reform on July 11. This was the Republican plan regardless of what happened—repeal anything left standing—and this vote would have proceeded unless the Court rendered it unnecessary by striking down the entire law (which, notably, four justices advocated in their dissent).
Mitt Romney, speaking nearby—after his campaign announced it had already raised $200,000 in the brief period after the ruling, a sign that their strategy could be working—pledged to push for a full repeal if elected president.
Meanwhile, Democrats celebrated. The Congressional Progressive Caucus was joined by Senators Tom Harkin and Chris Coons for a press conference on the steps of the Court that was upbeat but somewhat restrained, and in a fitting parable for how the entire healthcare debate played out, was almost completely drowned out by Bachmann shrieking into a megaphone a few yards away.
The Democratic message was clear: this is a big victory, but there’s still work to be done on healthcare reform. “This law is a critical step in the right direction; I have likened it to a starter home, suitable for improvement,” said Harkin in a statement. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to make sensible changes as we continue to implement the law.” Representative Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, heralded the final enshrinement of a healthcare reform after presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton tried and failed to enact it—yet promised that the CPC would continue to push Congress “forward, never backward.”