The Justice Department, acting on behalf of President Trump and his administration, recently announced that it supported declaring the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional – an unexpected move even among Republican lawmakers.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and others close to him appear to have convinced President Trump that he may be able to eliminate Obama’s signature healthcare law through the court system rather than repealing the law through Congress. Mulvaney, who spent years as a South Carolina congressman, explained to the president that he could join Republican attorneys general in a lawsuit to invalidate the ACA.
The lawsuit’s original intentions were to eliminate only sections of the ACA, albeit the popular and important protections for people with pre-existing conditions and essential health benefits.
But in December 2018, a federal judge ruled the entire ACA unconstitutional, arguing that the law couldn’t stand without the individual mandate requirement, which had been zeroed out by the Trump administration starting this year. The current case is expected to make its way to the Supreme Court eventually.
One of the reasons Mulvaney was able to convince President Trump that he should use the court system to end the ACA was that, as a candidate, it was a campaign promise to eliminate the healthcare program. Mulvaney reminded the president that he “kept his promises” and that his base of voters would approve of his efforts to continue fulfilling those promises.
Several members of President Trump’s inner circle cautioned against the measure.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Attorney General William Barr oppose using the courts to eliminate the ACA. Vice President Mike Pence also cautioned against the idea, suggesting that moving ahead without a strategy to handle the millions who could lose coverage may not be in the best interest of the American people.
Despite these concerns, President Trump decided to move forward, and the Justice Department released a letter a few days after the meeting supporting Judge Reed O’Connor’s decision.
The decision met with significant backlash from both Democrats and Republicans. President Trump has since designated select Senate Republicans to take up the mantle of creating new, conservative-approved legislation to replace the ACA. The administration’s handpicked healthcare team, however, doesn’t appear to be eager for the task.