WASHINGTON – As the nation’s capital prepared Wednesday for the Supreme Court’s long-awaited ruling on President Barack Obama’s health care law, the White House was unusually quiet.
The ruling on Obama’s biggest domestic accomplishment could be among the most consequential events in his presidency, but he will learn about it at the same time as the rest of the nation, receiving no advanced warning as he does for such government actions as the release of unemployment statistics.
So, a White House that so often pre-spins the news has maintained a studied silence about Obama’s plans. His staff won’t even say whether he will make a public appearance or statement today, a day he is scheduled to spend in meetings at the White House. “I cannot speculate on all the various permutations,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
The administration, like the rest of Washington on Wednesday, was running high on adrenaline with no real reason to sprint. “We’re all hurry-up-and-waiting,” Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said.
Outside the Supreme Court, its stately neo-classical facade covered in scaffolding for an inconveniently timed improvement project, the scene was eerily serene. A few camera crews staked out spots on the front steps, tourists strolled about and there was no sign of the frenzy to come.
But inside the Capitol, lawmakers and their aides were frenetically drawing up plans to respond to the court’s decision. Welch, after a morning jog on an unusually cool day, headed to his office to work the phones for his Plan B: legislation that would provide Medicare for all.
Throughout Washington, advocacy groups were also running through scenarios. Health policy experts traded predictions on Twitter. A tea party group prepared to livestream its views from the court steps.
What the nine justices decide could change the course of the nation’s health care system and the fall election campaigns. The Affordable Care Act, designed to increase the number of Americans who have access to health care, has become one of the most potent examples of how far apart the two political parties are on the role the federal government should play in the lives of Americans.
Democrats and Republicans alike hope to turn the decision to their advantage on the campaign trail.
Thus has Washington been turning longingly to the court for the past two Mondays and Thursdays, days the court could have handed down decisions. CSPAN – the wonk’s ESPN – has broadcast live outside of the court, showing images of protesters, passers-by and journalists milling around.
Today is the final day the court could issue the opinion this term.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, met behind closed doors in the Capitol basement on Wednesday, plotting another attempt to repeal the law, or whatever’s left of it after today’s decision.
Democrats have been more muted, perhaps reflecting an unwillingness to acknowledge what may come.
Democratic Party officials said they were waiting for the White House’s lead. The West Wing and the Obama campaign have already gamed out the options in broad strokes, officials say.
Today, the White House will likely remain silent for at least 45 minutes to an hour, one official said, while everyone studies the opinion.