In a speech in Lexington and later in an interview with The Advocate-Messenger, the Senate minority leader spoke at length about what he said was “the Supreme Court deliberation and the inappropriateness of (Obama) clearly trying to intimidate them into doing what he wants them to do,” referring to remarks Obama made Monday, in which he said striking down the health care reform act passed in 2010 would be an overreach.
“Everybody’s complained from time-to-time about the Supreme Court decisions after the fact, but to try to weigh in in advance strikes me as over the line,” McConnell said. “It’s been a pattern. He did it a couple years ago at the State of the Union with regards to another decision they made with them sitting right in front of him. I think he ought to back off.”
The Senate’s top ranking Republican also pointed to the fact that some close to the president, including Harvard professor and former Obama administration official Laurence Tribe, have also been critical of a sitting president speaking about a pending case.
McConnell, who attended some of the three days of arguments held last week, was among those who filed an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief in support of the suit filed by attorneys general in multiple states. He believes the court may have already voted, but said the shroud of secrecy around the justices and their clerks remains one of the only reliably leak-proof institutions in Washington.
The court is reviewing whether the so-called individual mandate, which would require people to purchase a minimum level of insurance by 2014 or incur a penalty, falls within the government's authority under the Commerce Clause.
The crux of the government's argument is that what the law refers to as the minimum coverage provision is justified under the federal government's jurisdiction over interstate commerce. The payments, the government has argued, are akin to financing the purchase of something everyone will need at some point, and not having insurance would impact cost for others.
The argument made by McConnell and those who filed the lawsuit is that the government compelling someone to purchase something in a market would open the door for mandating other choices. He gives the example of being made to eat carrots, quit smoking or lose weight.
If the law is upheld, McConnell has been one of the vocal proponents of repealing the legislation and instead taking smaller steps that would reign in costs.
Health care will no doubt be among the major issues in the upcoming presidential campaign, but some have speculated about whether presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney will be hindered by the comprehensive health plan he supported as Massachusetts governor.
"Politically, we'd be better off if he hadn't done that," McConnell said. "On the other hand, a state is free to do that. The fact that Massachusetts chose to do it may or may not mean anybody else does. That's a totally different thing from whether it is either permissible constitutionally or advisable for the federal government to try to micromanage the medical care of 300 million people."
McConnell said the economy, even with some signs of recovery, will still be an issue for the president in the election.
Obama inherited a bad situation and made it worse with over-taxation and regulation, McConnell said. He pointed to the fact that the unemployment rate, which dropped slightly to 8.3 percent, is still a long way from the 5.5 percent typical during a healthy economy.
Although he wouldn't wade into the process of picking a vice presidential nominee, McConnell did say he would likely be in attendance for the vice presidential debate to be held at Centre College in October. He said he still has the "Thrill in the 'Ville" poster from the 2000 debate framed in his Louisville home.
McConnell was in town Thursday to give the first in a series of speeches at Centre about prominent Kentucky senators.