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The Capitol is rarely a lonely place. Even on the most ordinary legislative days, busy staffers bustle in the building’s bowels; maybe a lone protester waves a picket sign at Members near the West Front.
But when by 9 a.m., two belly dancers whoop and jiggle in front of the Supreme Court while a woman in a tri-corner hat rings a miniature Liberty Bell as former Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) looks on, you know this will not be one of those ordinary days.
The scene was the circus that almost everyone predicted, as the Supreme Court handed down its most anticipated and hotly contested decision in years: President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, is constitutional.
Throngs of protesters representing all sides of the issue mobbed the court — the aforementioned belly dancers favored a single-payer system, while the tri-corner-hat crowd was hoping for a full repeal.
The Capitol Police, perhaps acting on the experiences of 2009 and 2010, when the tea party descended on the Capitol ahead of votes on the health care law, called patrols from the surrounding streets nearer to the Capitol, according to one officer.
Joining the crowd were some of the law’s most virulent Republican critics — Reps. Louie Gohmert (Texas) and Phil Gingrey (Ga.) and Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), to name a few — ready to have the first word on the court’s decision.
“This is an important day in U.S. history here,” Johnson said before the ruling was announced, a wide grin on his face. “I wanted to be down here when the decision was handed down. ... I never would have run for U.S. Senate were it not for the assault on our freedom that this health care law represents.”
Just moments later, as the ruling became public, the grin was gone. “It’s depressing,” he huffed.
The initial reaction was confused, however, spurred by inaccurate reports on CNN, Fox News and Twitter that the law’s centerpiece, the individual mandate, had been struck down.
Tea party protesters began celebrating, calling it a victory for the Constitution.
The single-payer crowd rejoiced, too, yelling, “Yay, we won!” They were prepared to hold the mandate’s demise as the only way to make “Medicare for all,” as their signs read, a reality.
Both sides quickly adjusted their tones after hearing that the decision, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, upheld the mandate as a tax power.
Unleashing a blistering tirade, Gohmert took to the microphone to call Democrats liars and suggest that Justice Elena Kagan should be impeached.