WASHINGTON — Battling fiercely for the White House, President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney implored voters to see the Supreme Court’s health care ruling in different ways Thursday, with Obama appealing for people to move on with him and his challenger promising to rip up the law.
“Today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure,” Obama declared after a divided high court upheld the law, including a requirement that people carry health insurance. “It’s time for us to move forward.”
Romney did just the opposite, pinning the court’s decision to the election and asking voters to render their own ruling.
“If we want to get rid of Obamacare,” he said, “we’re going to have replace President Obama.”
Democrats and Republicans immediately launched fundraising appeals off the court’s decision, underscoring the campaign ramifications of a judicial decision that is supposed to be devoid of politics. It was conservative Chief Justice John Roberts who cast the defining vote, upending the traditional lines of political attack and surprising many in the White House.
The outcome was a clear personal win for Obama, who has staked much of his presidency and legacy on the law. But Republicans were emboldened that it would cost him, given that the law as a whole remains unpopular and that the insurance mandate was deemed by the court to be a tax.
Neither Obama nor Romney knew what the ruling would be.
So what unfolded was a dramatic, unscripted moment in a campaign that has had few of them.
At first, Obama thought the worst.
Watching a bank of television monitors outside the Oval Office, Obama saw urgent but erroneous cable news reports that the individual mandate had been shot down.
But the White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, knew otherwise and flashed the president two thumbs up. After she explained the justices’ bottom-line ruling, the president gave her a hug.
Across the White House, where anticipation had been intense, the mood was more relief and satisfaction than roaring celebration.
Obama sought to strike that tone as he spoke from a lectern in the East Room, trying to steer the conversation toward the ways he said the law is helping millions of Americans.
“I know there will be a lot of discussion today about the politics of all this — about who won and who lost,” he said. “That’s how these things tend to be viewed here in Washington. But that discussion completely misses the point.”
Obama barely alluded to Romney.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who had watched news of the ruling from his Washington hotel room, reacted first. He set himself up with a TV backdrop of the Capitol to underscore his political message.
“What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States,” Romney said. “And that is I will act to repeal Obamacare.”
His campaign said Thursday evening that it had raised $2.5 million from 24,000 donors during the day, crediting a response to the court decision. But based on the sheer average of Romney’s fundraising — a rate of more than $2 million a day last month — it was unclear how much of Thursday’s money was attributable to the health care opinion.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign e-mailed a fundraising appeal over the president’s name, citing the court’s decision and Romney’s pledge to repeal it. “While the Supreme Court’s decision should put to rest the debate over health care,” the e-mail said, “Mitt Romney and the Republicans in Congress just can’t take yes for an answer.”
For all the political furor over the decision, Romney and Obama ultimately turned their comments to the economy, where they know the election will be decided. Shortly after Romney insisted the president’s law was a “job-killer,” Obama called for the debate over the health care law to finally end so everyone can “focus on the most urgent challenge of our time: putting people back to work.”