Updated: 4:47 p.m.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney struggled today to walk back President Barack Obama’s false statement Monday that it would be “unprecedented” for the Supreme Court to overturn a law “passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
Carney repeatedly fended off reporters’ questions at his daily briefing about the president’s remark, arguing that Obama meant there were no laws of “national economic significance” that have been overturned by the court in the past 85 years.
And Carney ridiculed anyone who thought otherwise. “A handful of people didn’t understand what he was referring to,” Carney said.
Carney said Obama does not regret using the word “unprecedented” and noted that Obama clarified the remark Tuesday during questioning at an Associated Press conference.
But the unedited original remark appears just plain wrong. And giddy Republicans released an extensive list of laws passed by Congress but overturned by the courts. And they have ridiculed his claim that the 219-212 majority for the health care reform law in the House represented a “strong majority.” (The core of the health care law did get 60 votes in the Senate.)
When asked repeatedly if that amounted to a “strong majority,” Carney diverted the questions to bashing the budget blueprint put forward by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) instead.
House Democratic leaders backed up the president.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters today, “I agree with the president that our case for this health care bill, the Affordable Care Act, is ironclad.”
The California Democrat, speaking after an unrelated Democratic Steering Committee public meeting on oil prices, added, “We respect the courts, and in that light, [this legislation we] believe is constitutional.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson was more frank, saying, “I think the president was on point” in his Monday remarks.
“I don’t think this court is going to be intimidated by the president or any elected official for that matter,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “If anything, the court has come under a great deal of scrutiny for being too political.”
Republicans point to two fairly recent cases where the Supreme Court struck down laws on Commerce Clause grounds. But neither was of “national economic significance” — one was a piece of the Violence Against Women Act and another overturned a ban on guns in school zones.
Carney also deflected questions about Senate Democrats’ failure to vote on a budget resolution in each of the past three years. Carney said only a bipartisan negotiation would yield spending legislation that the president can sign into law, and each chamber passing a partisan budget wouldn’t get any closer to achieving that result.
Jessica Brady contributed to this report.