Biden, Democrats focus on healthcare in Supreme Court standoff

Joe Biden says Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nomination is part of a plan to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden has cast the Supreme Court nomination as a threat to health care [File: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

The Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, has responded to President Donald Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court, casting it as a blatant attempt to overthrow the Affordable Care Act (ACA) amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden, speaking from Wilmington, Delaware, on Sunday, joined a chorus of Democrats who sought to focus the nomination on an apparent threat to the ACA, a challenge to which will come before the top US court on November 10.

The former vice president spoke a day after Trump announced the nomination of Barrett at a White House event.

“There is no mystery about what’s happening here,” Biden said.

“President Trump has been trying to throw out the Affordable Care Act for four years. The Republican Party has been trying to eliminate it for a decade,” he added. “Now, all of a sudden this Administration believes they’ve found a loophole in the tragedy of Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg’s death.”

Barrett, a conservative federal appellate judge from Indiana, in a law review article had previously criticised a 2012 Supreme Court ruling upholding a key component on the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, which requires citizens to have public or private insurance or pay a fee.

A former academic at the University of Notre Dame before Trump appointed her to a federal judgeship in 2017, Barrett’s confirmation would result in a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

“It should come as no surprise [on] Saturday, President Trump will nominate judge Amy Coney Barrett, and on Sunday, lay out clearly what his objective is to terminate Obamacare,” Biden said, referring to a Sunday tweet from Trump in which he said the ACA “would be replaced with a much better, and far cheaper, alternative if it is terminated in the Supreme Court”.

Trump has for years promised to repeal the Obama-era legislation, but has failed to offer an alternative. On Thursday, the president signed an executive order that promises to protect people with pre-existing health conditions – a key component of the ACA – but avoided details of how such protection would be guaranteed by health insurance companies without further legislation.

‘Americans are voting’

Senate Republican leaders have resolved to move forward with Barrett’s confirmation, aiming for a vote before the November 3 election.

Democrats have said whoever wins the election should choose the nominee, however, they currently have little power to stop the proceedings.

Only two Republican senators have publicly opposed moving forward with the confirmation before the election. The party has a 53-47 majority in the chamber, and ties are broken by the vice president.

With few options to block the confirmation, some observers see Democrats’ focus on the ACA as an attempt to further energise voters.

“What I am concerned about is anyone that President Trump would have appointed was there to undo the Affordable Care Act. That is why he was in such a hurry, so he could have someone in place for the oral arguments, which begin November 10,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the CNN State of Union programme on Sunday.

During his statements on Sunday, Biden again urged Republican senators to break from the party and oppose a confirmation before the election.

“Just because you have the power to do something doesn’t absolve you from your responsibility to do right by the American people,” Biden said.

“Americans are watching. Americans are voting. We must listen to them now,” he said.