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President Barack Obama was watching erroneous cable TV reports that the Supreme Court had struck down the heart of his health care law when White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler gave him two thumbs-up and told him that five justices had upheld the act.
In a background briefing on condition that no one be quoted directly, senior administration officials described the moments after the decision came down.
Obama was in the outer Oval Office, staring at a bank of four televisions without sound, with two of them reporting incorrectly on their chyrons that the law had been overturned. Fox News and CNN initially reported that the individual mandate had been overturned, but the court upheld the law and the mandate to buy health insurance as a tax.
Obama had a quizzical look on his face as he looked at the TV screens moments before he was told the correct information by Ruemmler. Hugs ensued, the officials said.
Obama then went into the Oval Office and called Solicitor General Donald Verrilli to congratulate him.
The White House had been monitoring SCOTUSblog and also had been getting reports from the court from an administration lawyer.
The administration’s larger strategy on health care or on the politics of health care will not change after the ruling, officials said. They continue to believe that the economy will remain the most important issue in the campaign, and don’t expect polling to swing much one way or the other after the court ruling.
Officials dismissed Republican attacks on the individual mandate as a tax increase by Republicans, saying that estimates show perhaps 1 percent of the public or less would be subject to it. They noted that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney signed a stiffer tax penalty into law in Massachusetts as part of its health care law. They also point out that the law will amount to a large tax cut for millions of middle-class Americans in the form of tax credits to buy health insurance.
The officials also said the administration had argued before the court that the law should be upheld under the taxing power and that it did not come out of the blue. White House aides had long predicted internally that Chief Justice John Roberts would write the majority opinion in the case.