President Obama’s day of international diplomacy was interrupted Monday when a reporter from Bloomberg asked him a question on domestic politics, inciting a strong defense of the president's signature health care reform legislation.
Standing with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon during a press conference in the Rose Garden, Obama was asked about the possibility that the individual mandate could be deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
He responded by saying that he was confident the court would not take the “unprecedented, extraordinary step” of deeming the bill unconstitutional. He then pointed to the popular conservative talking point about the dangers of judicial activism, contending that if the Supreme Court threw out the mandate they would be circumventing the legislative process.
“I'd just remind conservative commentators that for years what we've heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law,” Obama said. “Well, this is a good example. And I'm pretty confident that this - this court will recognize that and not take that step.”
Here’s the president’s full answer:
I'm actually - continue to be confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the law. And the reason is, because in accordance with precedent out there, it's constitutional. That's not just my opinion, by the way. That's the opinion of legal experts across the ideological spectrum, including two very conservative appellate court justices that said this wasn't even a close case.
I think it's important, because I watched some of the commentary last week, to remind people that this is not an abstract argument. People's lives are affected by the lack of availability of health care, the inaffordability of health care, their inability to get health care because of pre-existing conditions. The law that's already in place has already given 2.5 million young people health care that wouldn't otherwise have it. There are tens of thousands of adults with pre-existing conditions who have health care right now because of this law.
Parents don't have to worry about their children not being able to get health care because they can't be prevented from getting health care as a consequence of a pre-existing condition. That's part of this law.
Millions of seniors are paying less for prescription drugs because of this law. Americans all across the country have greater rights and protections with respect to their insurance companies and are getting preventive care because of this law.
So that's just the part that's already been implemented. That doesn't even speak to the 30 million people who stand to gain coverage once it's fully implemented in 2014.
And I think it's important - and I think the American people understand, and I think the justices should understand that in the absence of an individual mandate, you cannot have a mechanism to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions can actually get health care.
So there's - there's not only an economic element and a legal element to this, but there's a human element to this. And I hope that's not forgotten in this political debate.
Ultimately, I'm confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.
And I'd just remind conservative commentators that for years what we've heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example. And I'm pretty confident that this - this court will recognize that and not take that step.