If you stood outside of the Capitol’s East Front just before 10:30 a.m. Thursday, you could hear cheers emanating from across the street.
“A-C-A is here to stay!” chanted the crowd outside the Supreme Court, applauding the high court’s 6-3 ruling in King v. Burwell to uphold health insurance subsidies for federally run exchanges, a key component of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Minutes before in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, staff began muttering behind the dais at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing as news broke that the Supreme Court had issued its decision.
Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who was crafting a contingency plan if the court eliminated the subsidies, was in the midst of questioning the Office of Personnel Management director on the recent data breach. While Johnson’s questioning continued, his press office sent out a release calling the ruling “incredibly disappointing.”
Johnson’s release landed in reporters’ in-boxes around 10:20 a.m. and was one of the early GOP statements on the subject. Across the Rotunda, some House members heard the news as they were in the midst of voting.
“We got good news from the Supreme Court,” Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., declared in the Speaker’s Lobby. Grinning broadly, Clay slapped the back of House Progressive Caucus leader Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz. The two gleefully chatted for a bit, then walked back into the chamber with Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., in tow.
“Amazing things happening around here,” Clay said to Cummings, still smiling.
During the vote, the Democrats were up and talking while many Republicans remained seated. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, had to bang the gavel three times to bring the chamber to order before Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, addressed the House during the series. But he did not to discuss the health care ruling.
Instead, Boehner praised Republican cloakroom manager Timothy Harroun, who is retiring after 41 years of service. Harroun received a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle, which led to some confusion in the Speaker’s Lobby.
Two reporters pressed their faces up to the glass of the chamber doors when members began applauding, wondering if the hubbub was related to the ruling. One pointed to the clapping Republicans and asked the other reporter why “all of them” would join the ovation for Obama’s victory.
Some lawmakers did hear of the ruling before they took to the floor. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said he was in a meeting with House Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., talking about a number of issues, including reconciliation, the budgetary tactic Republicans are considering to functionally dismantle the health law.
“We looked up at the TV just as it happened and said, ‘Well, that’s going to change our approach on reconciliation,’” Flores said.
Flores said he wasn’t necessarily surprised by the court’s decision to issue its ruling Thursday since he “didn’t get into dancing on the head of that pin” on when it would happen. He described the mood among Republicans on the floor as one of recommitment to repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Republicans generally said they were “shocked and disappointed,” as Randy Neugebauer of Texas put it. But were Republicans really shocked? Were they really disappointed?
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling at all — “I wasn’t surprised the first time the Supreme Court made a decision on the Affordable Care Act” — and he said the decision was in the court’s hands, not Congress’.
“Hey, listen, we put it to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court heard it, they came down with their decision today,” Kelly said. “I’m fine with whatever they came out with.”
Rep. Paul Gosar said he was shocked, but not necessarily at the decision; he was shocked the ruling was 6-3. “I thought either way it would be a 5-4,” Gosar said. “But 6-3 tells me that we didn’t do a good job in talking to the Supreme Court.”
Boehner, who entered his weekly news conference stone-faced as two photographers snapped pictures in the hallway, was asked if he was disappointed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has voted twice to uphold Obamacare. “I’ll let the legal beagles around the country debate the chief justice of the Supreme Court,” Boehner said, “I’m just a mere Speaker of the House.”
Boehner said Republicans had a plan in case the Supreme Court went the other way, but some Republicans acknowledged the ruling got them out of a difficult situation of having to present an alternative to the president’s heath care law.
Gosar called the ruling a “convenient opportunity.” He said, “You can still puff up your chest, but you don’t have to come together with … a solution for these subsidies.”
The Arizona Republican said he thought there was still some desire to address Obamacare. “The problem is the more time you let things go, the harder it is to repeal,” he said.
One of the chief opponents of the health care law, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., spent his time after the ruling on the House floor, directing floor debate on trade legislation. When it became clear that votes had wrapped up, Ryan was spotted jetting off the floor via the Speaker’s Lobby, heading for the exit.
Democrats, on the other hand, were elated. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., said Democrats were “jubilant.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was beaming at her news conference Thursday morning, and later when she joined Senate and House Democratic leaders at a previously scheduled news conference Thursday afternoon.
“We’re here today, of course, to talk about the big news of the day: transportation funding,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., eliciting laughs at the start. He then accused Republicans of being “willing to manufacture crisis” about the health care law, before pivoting to other topics.
Earlier in the day, both Reid and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took to the Senate floor to respectively praise and criticize the ruling. Aside from the leaders’ remarks, the Senate was relatively quiet, with no votes scheduled for the day.
But Senate hearings moved forward, though the ruling was clearly on the mind of some senators at the proceedings. “I sit next to @SenatorBaldwin in Approps Committee,” tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., along with a picture of the court’s decision behind his microphone on the dais at an appropriations hearing. “We’re a little distracted this morning.”
Matt Fuller, Hannah Hess, Niels Lesniewski and Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.