Attorney General Barr tepidly backs his own department's position to no longer defend 'Obamacare'

The attorney general was testifying before a House panel on Tuesday.

April 9, 2019, 1:02 PM

Two weeks after the Justice Department reversed itself and agreed with efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act, Attorney General Bill Barr on Tuesday seemed to express skepticism that the Trump administration's latest position can withstand legal scrutiny from the Supreme Court.

However, testifying before a House panel, Barr also offered a strong public defense of the administration's new wholesale opposition to the so-called "Obamacare" law, including its protections for sick Americans with pre-existing conditions.

"I hear [lawmakers] saying you've taken this legal position [that] can have bad policy decision," Barr said. "But as the attorney general, you take positions based on the law."

"I'm a lawyer, I'm not in charge of health care," Barr insisted to a House Appropriations subcommittee.

“If the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we’ll have a plan that is far better than Obamacare,” President Donald Trump said last month.

When a federal appeals court judge ruled two weeks ago that Trump-era legislation and other recent actions meant the entire Affordable Care Act should be overturned, the Justice Department decided to support the ruling -- rather than appeal it with a position the department had been advocating previously.

On Tuesday, one Democratic congressman pressed Barr over whether he believes the U.S. Supreme Court would agree with Justice Department's new position, should the legal fight end up in the nation's highest court. Barr responded by asking the congressman: "Do you think it's likely that we are gong to prevail?"

"If you think it's such an outrageous position," Barr told the congressman, "then you have nothing to worry about. Let the courts do their job."

According to news reports two weeks ago, Barr first objected to the administration backing off its support for the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, but he was essentially overruled by White House officials, leading him to carry out their new policy decision.

Asked Tuesday whether he ever conveyed such concerns to the White House, Barr told lawmakers he had "ample opportunity to present my views" to the White House. But Bar refused to offer any details or otherwise "get into internal deliberations of the administration."

Nevertheless, Barr called the Justice Department's new position "a legally defensible position." And, Barr said, "the president has made clear he supports" efforts to provide healthcare nation-wide, including ways to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.

“The Republican party will soon be known as the party of health care," Trump said two weeks ago.

On Tuesday, however, Democrats disputed any notion that Trump is sincerely committed to providing proper health-care protections, with one Democrat saying, "What I'm worried about are the people I work for: the American people ... and it's our duty around here to look out for their best interests."

If it prevails, the Justice Department's latest legal position would "sweep away" protections provided by the Affordable Care Act, Democrats said.

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