The US broke its record for new daily coronavirus cases on Thursday — the same day the Justice Department filed its brief with the Supreme Court — and on Friday, it shattered the record again with more than 40,000 cases reported, according to Johns Hopkins data.
Democrats see a winning issue
Democrats are confident that they have history on their side. In an election memo from the Democratic campaign committees in May, party officials noted that the party “experienced tremendous electoral success in ’17, ’18 and ’19 by running on health care” and argued that “Republicans at all levels own this lawsuit’s attack on Americans’ health care.”
Democrats in House and Senate races vowed on Friday to make health care an issue and tried to tie their GOP opponents to efforts to dismantle the law — a tactic Democrats used against GOP incumbents in the 2018 midterms regardless of whether they voted to repeal it.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican facing one of the toughest reelection races in the country, criticized the administration’s decision to file the brief this week. Her aides noted that she sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr in May of 2019 urging him to defend the health care law, and she said in a statement Friday that the Trump administration came to the wrong conclusion about congressional intent when members included the individual mandate repeal in the tax law.
“The Administration’s decision to submit this new brief is the wrong policy at the worst possible time as our nation is in the midst of a pandemic,” she said of the new filing in a statement Friday. “The Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land, and it is the Department of Justice’s duty to defend it.”
Priorities USA Action, a major Democratic super PAC supporting Biden, immediately aired a television ad in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan arguing that the President is “failing on health care,” by highlighting both the impact of the pandemic and the administration’s effort to nullify the ACA.
The Priorities’ ad highlighted Trump’s May 6 vow to do away with the Affordable Care Act. “Obamacare is a disaster, but we’ve run it very well and we’ve made it barely acceptable,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office during an event that day, calling it “lousy health care.”
“What we want to do is terminate it and give great health care,” he said.
Biden excoriated the President and the administration for trying to terminate the Affordable Care Act during his health care-focused speech Thursday in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. On Friday alone, his campaign held at least three events focused on his plans to expand the Affordable Care Act and detailed how the evisceration of the act would affect struggling Americans, particularly Black Americans.
But because of the pandemic, health care more broadly has taken on outsized importance this year as Americans worry about how they or their loved ones will handle coronavirus infections and pay medical bills. Compounding the GOP’s difficulty in tackling the health care issue, Americans are giving Trump increasingly poor marks for his handling of the coronavirus crisis with significantly more Americans saying they trust Biden over Trump to handle the pandemic.
Though Trump has made mask-wearing into a political issue, the new Pew poll this week suggests he’s on the wrong side of it. More than 70% of Americans said masks should be worn in public places most of the time.
Obamacare becomes central to 2020 campaign
But there was no hedging in the administration’s position this week. Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco argued that now that Congress has eliminated the ACA’s individual tax penalty on those who failed to purchase health insurance, “it necessarily follows that the rest of the ACA must also fall.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the administration’s move “an act of unfathomable cruelty” in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
And Biden went a step further by tying the potential effect of the court filing to the medical complications that many Covid-19 patients could face in the future.
Problems caused by Covid-19, like lung scarring and heart damage, could become “the new pre-existing condition,” Biden argued.
“If Donald Trump prevails in court, insurers would be allowed once again to strip away coverage, jack up premiums, simply because of the battle they survived, fighting coronavirus,” Biden said.
The former vice president argued that those coronavirus survivors would live their lives “caught in a vise” between Trump’s “twin legacies: his failure to protect the American people from the coronavirus, and his heartless crusade to take health care protections away from American families.”