Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell could soon be forever linked if the late Supreme Court justice’s death leads to the termination of the 44th president’s signature domestic policy achievement: the Affordable Care Act
All sides in the coming battle royale over how to proceed with filling the high court seat she left behind are posturing and pressuring, floating strategic possibilities and offering creative versions of history and precedent. Most Republicans in the Senate want to hold a simple-majority floor vote on a nominee Mr Trump says he will announce as soon as this week before the end of the calendar year. Democrats say they are hypocrites because the blocked a Barack Obama high court pick during his final year.
It appears Democrats have only extreme options as viable tactics from preventing confirmation hearings and a floor vote before this unprecedented year is up. Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday refused to rule bringing articles of impeachment against the president or even William Barr, his attorney general whom the Democrats say has improperly used his office to help Mr Trump’s friends and use federal law enforcement unjustly against US citizens.
Unless Ms Pelosi pulls that politically dangerous lever, the maneuvering of the next few weeks most likely will end after Congress returns after the 3 November election with a high court with a 6-3 conservative bend. Analysts already are warning that conservatives appear months away from being able to partially criminalise abortion and also take down the 2011 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama care.
Democrats have sounded off since Ms Ginsburg’s death to warn that millions of Americans could soon lose their health insurance, especially those with pre-existing conditions. Last year, 8.5m people signed up for coverage using the Affordable Care Act, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“Healthcare in this country hangs in the balance,” Joe Biden, who is the Democratic nominee for president and was vice president when Mr Obama signed the health plan now linked to his name into law, said on Sunday.
Mr Biden accused Republicans of playing a “game” by rushing the process to replace Ms Ginsburg on the court because they are “trying to strip healthcare away from tens of millions of families.”
Doing so, he warned, would “strip away their peace of mind” because insurance providers would no longer be required to give some Americans policies. Should a 6-3 court decide to uphold a lower court’s ruling that the 2011 health law be taken down, those companies would “drop coverage completely for folks with pre-existing conditions,” Mr Biden warned in remarks from Philadelphia.
“If Donald Trump has his way, the complications from Covid-19 … would become the next deniable pre-exinsting condition for millions of Americans.” That means they would lose their health insurance and be forced to either pay for care out of their pocket or use credit lines. Both could force millions into medical bankruptcy or otherwise create dire financial hardships.
Mr Trump about a month ago promised to release a new healthcare plan that, if ever passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law, would replace Obamacare.
So far, however, he has yet to unveil that alleged plan.
Trump Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters last week that the White House’s Domestic Policy Council is leading the work on the plan. But when pressed for more details, she chose to pick a fight with a CNN reporter.
“I’m not going to give you a readout of what our healthcare plan looks like and who’s working on it,” Ms McEnany said. “If you want to know, if you want to know, come work here at the White House.”
When pressed, Ms McEnany said “stakeholders here in the White House” are working on a plan the president has promised for several years. “And, as I told you, our Domestic Policy Council and others in the White House are working on a healthcare plan,” she insisted, describing it as “the president’s vision for the next five years.”
The president frequently mentions healthcare during his rowdy campaign rallies, but only in general terms. He promises a sweeping plan that will bring costs down across the board and also protect those with pre-existing conditions. But he mostly brings it up to hammer Mr Obama and Mr Biden for pushing a flawed law that he has been forced to tinker with to make it function better for consumers.
His top spokeswoman echoed those broad strokes during a briefing on Wednesday.
“In aggregate, it’s going to be a very comprehensive strategy, one where we’re saving healthcare while Democrats are trying to take healthcare away,” she told reporters. “We’re making healthcare better and cheaper, guaranteeing protections for people with preexisting conditions, stopping surprise medical billing, increasing transparency, defending the right to keep your doctor and your plan, fighting lobbyists and special interests, and making healthier and making, finding cures to diseases.”
If there is a substantive plan that would protect millions with pre-existing conditions and others affected by Covid-19, it would have made a fine backbone of Mr Trump’s August Republican National Committee address in which he accepted his party’s presidential nomination for a second time. But healthcare was not the major focus, even though it ranks in the top two issues – along with the economy – in just about every poll that asks voters to rank their priorities in deciding between Mr Trump and Mr Biden.
If there is a coming White House healthcare plan that would protect those with pre-existing conditions and prevent millions from losing coverage as the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing, the president is not using his campaign rallies at regional airport hangars to describe or promote it.
“We will strongly protect Medicare and Social Security and we will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” said at a campaign stop Saturday evening in Fayetteville, North Carolina, before pivoting to a completely unrelated topic: “America will land the first woman on the moon, and the United States will be the first nation to land an astronaut on Nars, on Mars.”
The push to install a conservative to replace the liberal Ms Ginsburg and the lack of any expectation Mr Trump has a tangible plan has given Democrats a new election-year talking point less than two months before all votes must be cast.
"Whoever President Trump nominates will strike down the Affordable Care Act,” Hawaii Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono told MSNBC on Sunday. “It will throw millions of people off of healthcare, won’t protect people with pre-existing conditions. It will be disastrous. That’s why they want to rush this."