President Obama rode the same emotional rollercoaster as millions of Americans watching cable news on Thursday, as the first reports to reach him via CNN and FOX erroneously declared that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate had been struck down.
The president remained calm in the face of what would have been devastating news for his signature legislation, according to senior White House officials. One to two minutes passed before White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler entered the room flashing two thumbs up to signal that the law had, in fact, survived almost entirely intact.
Obama’s first response was confusion: Two of the four televisions in the outer Oval Office were still breathlessly pronouncing the mandate dead. But the initial shock quickly turned to smiles and hugs, the administration officials said, as the true results sunk in: The Supreme Court had upheld the Affordable Care Act, 5-4.
The president’s first phone call was to Solicitor General Don Verrilli, who was widely criticized for his performance defending the law before the Supreme Court, to congratulate him. A former constitutional law professor who had carefully reviewed the court proceedings, Obama was well aware that it was one of Verilli’s arguments, that the mandate could also be considered a tax penalty instead of an imperative to purchase insurance, that had ultimately swayed Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined the majority opinion.
Watch video of the announcements that caused the confusion:
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.