With the oral arguments over President Obama's health care law out of the way, Democrats and Republicans are bracing for the political fallout expected this June when the Supreme Court hands down its ruling.
Whatever the court decides, it's sure to roil the political waters just months before the November elections, leaving the White House and Democrats scrambling to frame any outcome as a win for them and prompting wide speculation over how much an overturn of parts or all of the law would damage Mr. Obama's re-election prospects.
"I can tell you that there is no contingency plan that's in place," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday, responding to a question of what the administration will do if the court partially or fully overturns the law. "We're focused on implementing the law and we are confident that the law is constitutional."
Meanwhile, Republicans face the distinct possibility that the court could uphold the law, pulling their claims that it's unconstitutional right out from under them. But they tried to paint the justices' apparent skepticism of the individual mandate as a victory in and of itself, being gleeful that the hearing seemed to go well for their side.
"Democrats are playing defense right now because of the questions the Supreme Court was asking and it feels like it's fallen right into the hands of Republicans," said GOP strategist Ron Bonjean.
Mr. Bonjean said that if the court upholds the law, Republicans will try to leverage it to their advantage, telling voters they need to win the presidency and a majority in the Senate to overturn it.
The key would be how closely the court splits the vote, said Democratic strategist Paul Goldman. If the court upholds the law 5-4, Republicans can still point to the fact that four justices opposed it.
"It takes away their argument that you violated the Constitution, but it doesn't take away their argument that it was a bad law and that it was an over-the-top use of government authority," he said.
The court spent three days hearing challenges to the law, with the swing-vote justices appearing skeptical of the individual mandate that requires Americans to have health insurance.
The administration rushed to defend Solicitor General Donald Verrilli after some commentators criticized his defense of the Affordable Care Act, with CNN contributor Jeffrey Toobin calling it a "train wreck" for Mr. Obama.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid jumped to Mr. Verrilli's defense, telling reporters Tuesday that just because the justices asked tough questions, it doesn't mean they've already decided to knock the mandate down.
"It's good to speculate as to what might happen, but believe me, those nine men and women are extremely smart, and a lot of times they probe with those questions, not in any way to tip their mitt as to how they're going to vote on it," Mr. Reid said.
Some Democrats went so far as to embrace the possibility of an overturn, with former President Clinton strategist James Carville telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer that overturning the health care law would be a political touchdown for Democrats. Health care costs would escalate and Republicans would carry the blame, he said.
"Just as a professional Democrat, there's nothing better to me than overturning this thing 5-4 and then the Republican Party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future," Mr. Carville said. "And I really believe that. That is not spin."
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