There is but one certainty about the legal argument: There will
be substantial political fallout no matter how the Supreme Court
The law professor side of President Barack Obama is highly
intrigued by the Supreme Court hearings over the constitutionality
of his health care law. He studied a summary of the arguments aboard
Air Force One as he flew back from a nuclear summit meeting in South
The political side of the president may need to draw upon his
judicial patience as he awaits a ruling that will help shape the
final stages of the presidential race.
For all of the fretting by liberals and the tea-leaf reading by
legal analysts about the pointed questioning from the justices about
the health law, there is but one certainty: There will be
substantial political fallout no matter how the court rules.
Successful political races, particularly presidential campaigns,
are built on planning for every likely outcome. Mitt Romney, should
he secure the Republican nomination, would confront tricky political
calculations regardless of the ruling, given his role in enacting a
health care law in Massachusetts built around the same type of
mandate at the heart of the Supreme Court case.
But for the White House and the president's re-election team, the
challenge begins immediately. They must publicly defend the law's
constitutionality and push back against suggestions that the battle
is lost, even as they privately piece together a contingency plan if
the law -- or part of it -- is overturned.
The early outlines of the plan came into view on Wednesday as the
administration aggressively promoted the more popular provisions of
the health care law. That offered a glimpse of the next three
months, as the court wrestles with its ruling on the most sweeping
piece of domestic legislation since Medicare was created in 1965.
"It's foolhardy to try to predict the outcome of this decision
based solely on the questions of the judges," said Josh Earnest, a
White House spokesman. He added, "If there is a reason or a need for
us to consider some contingencies down the line, then we'll do it
It was two years ago that Mr. Obama stood in the East Room of the
White House and signed the health care bill, pausing as his
supporters in the crowd sounded the old rallying cry of his
presidential race: "Fired up! Ready to go!" Health care had been an
important issue in his campaign, but hardly the central thrust.
If the Supreme Court strikes down the health care law,
Republicans hope to make it a prominent element of their effort to
deny him a second term.
"It would be a tremendous validation," Governor Bob McDonnell of
Virginia, a Republican, said in an interview. "A victory in court
would say that a trend toward big-government solutions out of
Washington has a limit and the biggest accomplishment of the Obama
administration is unconstitutional."
If the administration loses its argument, one early strategy is
to run squarely against the Supreme Court. Democrats believe that
Mr. Obama could fashion himself as a modern-day Franklin D.
Roosevelt, trying to convince voters that a majority of the justices
are in the pocket of the Republicans. …