Obamacare lawsuit? What Obamacare lawsuit? Senate Republicans play dumb

It's a horrendous look for Republicans, in the middle of a potential national epidemic and global pandemic, that their party and their White House are going to tell the Supreme Court this fall that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional and should be destroyed. So it's no great surprise that Republican senators who have to face voters in November don't want to talk about it.

Asked by The Hill about their position on this lawsuit, they dodged and weaved. Freshman Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst is going to have a hard time making this answer work for the next eight months: "I'm not saying whether I support it or not. It's in the hands of the Supreme Court now, so we'll see," she said. Maybe she feels the need to tread lightly here—she does have a primary opponent. He's just "some dude," but apparently Ernst still isn't willing to go out on any kind of limb by saying she thinks affordable health care for people is good.

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Arizona's stand-in, Sen. Martha McSally, who is there by appointment filling the late John McCain's seat, is trying to use that hook from impeachment days—it's in the court now, it’s in a "judicial proceeding"—and she won't comment. As if the Supreme Court was hanging on the words of a fill-in senator it’s never heard of before to make its decision. That's about as pathetic a response as you can get. Even McSally's counterpart, the other just-filling-in-for-now senator, Kelly Loeffler from Georgia (who's only been there a couple of months), did better. Eventually. Stymied by the in-person question, she had her office follow up in an email. "Regardless of what the courts do or do not decide, there is no question Congress needs to address healthcare issues facing Americans," Loeffler's spokeswoman said, offering that the senator wants a bill that "lowers insurance costs" and "expands coverage options." Which the ACA does, of course, for most people. But she's new. How could she be expected to be prepared to speak intelligently about the one thing that has dominated electoral politics for 10 years?

Sen. Thom Tillis, a vulnerable Republican from North Carolina, also wouldn't defend the lawsuit or even give his position on it. "What I'm more focused on is how we get back to a rational discussion about protecting pre-existing conditions, the kinds of things that are potentially at risk that for the life of me I can't understand why anyone would be opposed to, providing some certainty by just voting those provisions into law independent of the lawsuit." None of us can understand why anyone would be opposed to protections for people with pre-existing conditions, so this legal challenge is kind of a mystery. Except for the part where Republican attorneys general and governors and the Republican president are saying they should be struck down by the court. That's something Tillis should have to answer for.

Steve Daines of Montana was nearly as bad as McSally. He just brushed the question off, saying, "We're going to be talking about a lot between now and next year." Which means nothing, considering they've been talking a lot about it for 10 years and have managed to do absolutely nothing. Well, not nothing, actually. Republicans held literally dozens of repeal votes in the House and also brought three lawsuits trying to destroy the law. Spoiler alert: They will not have a plan in 2021 if the Supreme Court invalidates the law. Perhaps the most pathetic of the lot is Colorado's Cory Gardner, who seems resigned to his losing fate and didn't even bother to respond to the question.

On the issue that flipped the House in 2018, and that is at the top of voters' minds in 2020, Senate Republicans still don't have any answers. But they've got several months to come up with something to say before the Supreme Court and the case are back in the news with the arguments in the case. Judging by past performance, they'll have nothing.

Four Supreme Court justices give Trump a big gift, punt on hearing Obamacare case

In case anyone is wondering if Chief Justice John Roberts will be assisting in having a fair and transparent impeachment trial of Donald Trump, look to what just happened at the Supreme Court on behalf of Trump: The justices denied a request by House Democrats and Democratic state attorneys general to expedite the Affordable Care Act case, a denial Trump's Department of Justice requested. It takes four justices to deny consideration of a case, and while we don’t know who those four were, it's a pretty safe bet that they looked to Roberts for guidance, if indeed he wasn't leading the conservatives in this.

They could still grant a hearing later in the year, and hear the case in the fall, when they could withhold a decision until next year, well after the election. Don't forget: Trump has argued that the entire law needs to be struck down on the specious grounds that the individual mandate penalty in the law was zeroed out by his tax scam of 2017. The Trump case has been panned by legal scholars left and right, but the extremely partisan Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit agreed with an even more partisan federal district court judge that the mandate was unconstitutional. The 5th Circuit, however, played its own bit of politics in remanding the case to that judge to consider what parts of the law might still stand. Since that judge, Reed O'Connor, already ruled once that the entire law should be tossed, it's not going to be a huge surprise when he decides he was right all along.

But that will likely be months away, now that we're actually in an election year and no Republican wants to rely on Trump to come up with a replacement plan for Obamacare. That's exactly what he'd have to do, and they all know it. Health care is going to be one of the major issues—if not the issue—of the 2020 election. This case is still going to loom over it, with or without a Supreme Court decision, because Trump is arguing that the entire law be tossed. That includes protections for 130 million people with pre-existing conditions. It includes coverage for people up to age 26 on their parents’ plans. It includes no limits on what insurance has to cover in a person’s lifetime in the event of a medical catastrophe. It includes affordable premiums for millions of people who were previously uninsured. And it includes the Medicaid expansion that's covered more millions.

But for now, the denial of consideration takes the worst of the pressure off of Trump, which seems to be what Roberts and crew want most. So don't expect any heroics from Roberts on behalf of the country and Constitution during this impeachment trial.