White House in damage control over Obama Supreme Court remarks

WASHINGTON, April 4 Wed Apr 4, 2012 5:59pm EDT

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WASHINGTON, April 4 (Reuters) - The White House was forced on the defensive on Wednesday as it sought to explain controversial remarks President Barack Obama made earlier in the week about the Supreme Court's review of his signature healthcare reform law.

"What he did was make an unremarkable observation about 80 years of Supreme Court history," Carney told reporters during a White House briefing dominated by the topic.

Obama expressed confidence on Monday that the Court would not take an "unprecedented, extraordinary step" by overturning the law, provoking a storm of protest that he had been inaccurate and was challenging the nation's top judges in an election year.

The Supreme Court could decide to reject his Affordable Care Act to expand health insurance to millions of Americans, striking down a key achievement of his presidency and potentially harming Obama's bid for re-election on Nov. 6.

The president, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, qualified the remark a day later by stressing he meant action by the Court on a matter of commerce, a legal distinction that cut little ice with his critics.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who backs Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination to confront Obama, told Fox News the president was "bullying the Supreme Court," and the White House was grilled on whether he had gone too far.

During robust questioning when Carney was told at one point that he had mischaracterized what the president had said, the press secretary was forced to repeatedly defend the remarks of his boss as an observation of fact.

"Since the 1930s the Supreme Court has without exception deferred to Congress when it comes to Congress's authority to pass legislation to regulate matters of national economic importance such as health care, 80 years," Carney said.

"He did not mean and did not suggest that ... it would be unprecedented for the court to rule that a law was unconstitutional. That's what the Supreme Court is there to do," Carney said.

Arguments in the case were heard over three days last week. A decision by the Supreme Court is expected by late June. (Reporting By Alister Bull)

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