President Obama made it clear on Monday that he is not buying the Washington insider view that the Supreme Court is poised to invalidate the health care law that is his signature achievement. In his first extended comments since three days of remarkable arguments before the Court last week, the president said he remains “confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the law.”
And the reason he offered was a simple declaration that “it's constitutional.” He added, “That's not just my opinion, by the way, that's the opinion of legal experts across the ideological spectrum, including two very conservative appellate court justices that said that wasn't even a close case.”
In a Rose Garden press conference at which he was flanked by the leaders of Mexico and Canada, President Obama also took a jab at conservatives who have long decried judicial activism, throwing their own rhetoric back at them by suggesting that to declare the health care law unconstitutional would be an example of “an unelected group of people (that) would somehow overturn a duly constituted passed law.”
The president was in Korea during the oral arguments. But, in a break with his usual insistence that he doesn't follow political analyses, he said he “watched some of the commentary last week.” Because of that, he said it was important “to remind people that this is not an abstract argument. People's lives are affected by the lack of availability of health care, the inaffordability of health care. Their inability to get health care because of preexisting conditions.”
He argued for the mandate that people must purchase health insurance, citing that as central to the overall reform. “I think the American people understand and I think the justices should understand in the absence of an individual mandate, you cannot have a mechanism to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions can actually get health care.” In what seemed like a direct appeal to the justices, he added, “So there's not only a legal element to this. But there's a human element to this. I hope that's not forgotten in this political debate.”
He stated that a Supreme Court rejection “would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.” Pointedly, he added, “And I just remind conservative commentators for years, what we heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint.” Well, he said, “this is a good example” of that.
He stressed again his confidence in the outcome on the Court. “I'm confident this will be upheld because it should be upheld. Again, that's not just my opinion. That's the opinion of a whole lot of constitutional-law professors, academics, judges, and lawyers who examined this law, even if they're not particularly sympathetic to this particular piece of legislation or my presidency.”
His top aides have been marching in line behind him, though a little more cautious about declaring their belief that the outcome will be one they will welcome. But, even in private, they have been refusing to even acknowledge that they may have to come up with a Plan B if the Court does strike down the law.
The president also took some jabs at Republicans who have questioned his belief in “American exceptionalism.” He brushed aside the attacks, simply noting that “it's still primary season for the Republican Party.” But he urged his critics to go back and look at the speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. “It's worth noting,” he said, “that I first arrived on the national stage with a speech at the Democratic convention that was entirely about American exceptionalism and that my entire career has been a testimony to American exceptionalism. But I will cut folks some slack for now because they're still trying to get their nomination.”
The president’s comments came following a North American Leaders’ Summit that brought Mexico's Felipe Calderon and Canada's Stephen Harper to the White House to discuss closer continental cooperation in fighting drug trafficking and violence, harmonizing regulations that slow cross-border commerce, and easing immigration disputes. After a two-year break, it marks a resumption of the summits first launched by President Bush in 2005 and dubbed the “Three Amigos” meetings.
Calderon pointedly blamed lax U.S. gun laws for the growth of narco-violence in his country. “It's been shown that when there's an excessive quick availability of weapons in any given society, there's an increase in violence and the murders that goes on,” he said. He said the expiration of the U.S. assault-weapons ban “coincided exactly with the beginning of the harshest period of violence” in Mexico.
Calderon did slip in one appeal for American students who may fear to travel to Mexico for spring break. He noted “there are hundreds of thousands of young Texans that go to Mexico (and) enjoy it.” He added, “We haven't seen one single incident (affecting) spring breakers in Mexico this past spring.”