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Millions of Americans’ health care under a ‘possible cloud’ after federal court ruling

A coalition of states with Democratic leadership is promising to appeal a Texas federal court ruling on Friday that aimed to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act. The case was brought by a group of Republican state attorneys general and is expected to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    For some perspective on all this on a very busy Saturday, NewsHour Weekend special correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins us now from Santa Barbara. Jeff, let's start with what could be the more consequential bit of news that happened last night: the court ruling. A federal judge says the entire Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Well, when the Affordable Care Act was passed, it made every American either get health insurance or pay a penalty. When Chief Justice Roberts cast the deciding vote to uphold the law, he said well that penalty's a tax and Congress has the power to impose a tax. Last year, Congress passed and the president signed a bill that said no, no more penalty. And what this judge said was, well, now that there's no penalty, you're forcing Americans to get health care, you the Congress don't have that power, and the entire Obamacare law — Medicaid expansion, subsidies for low income Americans, protection from preexisting condition bans, no more caps on the lifetime pay out of insurance companies — all of that, he said, has to go.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And this is one federal judge in Texas, does carry weight. What's likely to happen? I mean, this doesn't mean that the law has stopped now.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Correct. This will be appealed, and it very likely will be right back up to the Supreme Court, which has had two cracks at this law already. But, meanwhile, some 17 to 20 million Americans now have their health care under a possible cloud. And remember from the get go, the Trump administration has done everything it can to try to weaken this act. You know, not promoting advertising, passing waivers. And then you look at the politics. We've just had a midterm where Democrats made health care the key issue in their campaigns. And Republicans and the president were actively saying, no, no, we're going to protect preexisting conditions. So the potential for this law is going to make politics, I think, front and center the minute the new Congress comes into session in January.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And, Jeff, this also seems to raise the importance of the federal bench, in the sense that right now this particular case that seems to have been shopped almost by the people who thought that they were going to get a favorable verdict. And you realize that it's not just the Supreme Court that makes the law of the land, there's all these other courts, and it's really important the judges that every president has the ability to get through a confirmation.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    And that's a really important point because when everybody is talking about the Democratic victory in the midterm the Senate, the new Senate will be slightly more Republican, which means that even if there were a couple of Republican dissenters from these federal judges, it's very likely that Trump can get pretty much all of his judges through the court of appeals level, the district court level, and who knows about the court. So you're quite right, it does definitely throw a light on just how important it is that the Republicans were able to hold and expand their hold on the Senate.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Let's talk a little bit about Congress right now. We saw the beginning of this week — I hadn't seen it, perhaps it's not unprecedented — have such a long conversation in front of cameras between the leaders of Congress of the opposing party and the president.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    You know, this is about the 450th "I can't believe I'm seeing this happen" in the last two years. Normally, it's just a photo opportunity. But the president decided to kind of negotiate in front of the cameras, and Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive speaker-to-be, kept pushing back on him on the facts, about the votes for the wall and all these kinds of issues. And remember that Trump has not had in the first two years any experience in dealing with the opposition party in control.

    And that raises a broader point: we're going to look at a new Congress. The Republican minority in the House is going to be more conservative than it was, because it was moderates who lost. And the new Republican majority in the Senate is going to be more conservative, because Trump critics like Corker and Flake are gone. Meanwhile, you have Democrats in control of the House who've been waiting for two years to get the kind of subpoena power, the investigative power to look at everything from alleged collusion to now the sudden revelations about campaign finance law violations that have been raised by Mueller, the Trump Organization itself and how it functions, you've got a new York attorney general on top of everything else who says she's going to look at everything.

    So you tell me how this atmosphere in January any notion of cooperation between the Democrats and Republicans and the president is likely. I just don't see that happening.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And this is also happening at the same time when there is significant turnover in the administration. I mean, I don't want to necessarily editorialize by saying significant, but numerically it is unprecedented.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    We've never seen anything like this. I mean apart from that cabinet members who have been leaving under a cloud, you still have the commerce secretary Wilbur Ross who has been accused of all manner of conflicts of interest. You've had the president fire the secretary of state and the attorney general. You've had his campaign manager in jail and his personal lawyer about to go to jail. You've had more communications directors than there were Spinal Tap drummers. It's just a turnover that we have never seen as far as I can figure out. Going back at least, probably, to Andrew Johnson's administration in 1866. So every time you think you've seen the extreme to which our politics can now reach, the line is pushed back further, and we're less than two years into this administration.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And there might be more Spinal Tap references yet to come. Thank you very much Jeff Greenfield for joining us tonight.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Pleasure.

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