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At This Hour

Supreme Court Leaves Affordable Care Act in Place; Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Catholic Foster Care Agency That Refused to Work with Same Sex Couples; Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is Interviewed About the Supreme Court Leaving ACA in Place and the Biden-Putin Summit. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 17, 2021 - 11:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we do begin with breaking news at this hour.

The U.S. Supreme Court with two, major rulings this morning. The high court has just thrown out a challenge to Obamacare, leaving the Affordable Care Act intact. The justices turned away a challenge coming from Texas and other Republican-led states, as well as the former Trump administration, who wanted altogether, that the justices block the entire law.

In a separate ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously is ruling that Philadelphia must accommodate a Catholic foster care agency that is refusing to place children with same-sex couples.

Big issues at question there as well.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is live in Washington with all of the details as they continue to come out.

Jessica, focus in on the Obamacare ruling, please. What are the justices saying?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is big. The Supreme Court saving the Affordable Care Act, once again this morning, notably doing it with a 7-2 decision. Conservative justice joined with some of the liberals to say that this latest challenge of the law, that was put in place, the latest challenge is invalid because the justices are saying that the plaintiffs here, which included more than a dozen Republican-led states, just didn't have the necessary injury, or the legal standing, as it's called, to bring this case.

But the practical effect is that the Affordable Care Act remains in effect, and the 20 million who have gained coverage under Obamacare who really may have been sweating this decision out, they will continue to have coverage because of the Supreme Court's decision this morning. Now, of course, it's quite possible that Republicans or other

plaintiffs might find a way to challenge this law at some point. But for now, it stands, the justices knocking out this challenge. And for President Joe Biden, this is a major win, of course, because his administration asked the Supreme Court to let the law stand after the Trump administration took the other tact on this and tried to advocate to get it struck down. So, the court in this case found a procedural way to uphold this law.

Conservative Justice Alito Kate, he was joined by Justice Gorsuch, they wrote a dissent, saying they were exasperated that the Supreme Court found to way to keep law intact for a third time since its inception, and they said really, the majority had twisted itself into a pretzel here to make this law stand and saying that, of course, states should be able to challenge the ACA because they're burden with the cost of maintaining it.

But that was only two justices in that dissent. And the Supreme Court this morning, in a 7-2 decision, upholding or keeping intact, I should say, the Accordable Care Act -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Jessica, so much for that reporting.

CNN -- joining right now is CNN chief legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin, and CNN's Abby Phillip, the host of "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY."

Jeffrey, once again, this is taking me back when, I believe, I was sitting next to you in the oral arguments over the original challenge to Obamacare way back when. What do you think of this decision as Jessica is laying it out, four conservative leaning justices joining three liberal-leaning justices to dismiss this challenge?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: What I conclude that this was a bad case. I mean, this was a long shot for the plaintiffs. In the oral argument of this case, it certainly looked like, even the conservative justices, like Chief Justice Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh were very skeptical about this case. I mean, the message that Chief Justice Roberts is trying to send now, for almost a decade --


TOOBIN: -- is that if you, my conservatives, you my fellow conservatives want to overturn the Affordable Care Act, do it through the political process. Don't trust the courts to do it because we are not going to do it.

And as we saw, when the president was Donald Trump, and the Senate and the House were in Republican hands, they couldn't do it. They couldn't come up with a replacement.

So, today, you know, this is one of those rare, major Supreme Court decision that changes absolutely nothing. This isn't the same-sex marriage case, where states tomorrow have to start allowing same-sex marriages. All this case does is preserve the status quo. But it's a status quo, where people with pre-existing conditions are protected, where people can keep their kids on health insurance through age 25, where the -- there are no lifetime limits on coverage.


I mean, these are parts of American life that I think even though this Supreme Court didn't address the merits for a third time, I think they are sending a very strong message that they are done with existential challenges to the Affordable Care Act for good.

BOLDUAN: Until the makeup of the court changes, if it does again.


BOLDUAN: Strengthens one way or another.

Abby, this was a case brought by Republican-led states, chiefly Texas, supported by the Trump administration. What do you see as the practical and political impact of this now?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, you know, Jeffrey said it's a case that changes absolutely nothing. I think that is true from the perspective of people and their health insurance. But I think, politically, there's something very significant is the result of this decision.

I think it virtually kills this issue of changing the Affordable Care Act, repealing it, replacing it. That issue politically right now, is more or less dead. It's been a loser for Republicans from a political standpoint for several elections now, even when Republicans had control over the White House, control over the House and the Senate. They were not able to legislatively change this law, in a significant way. And as a result of that, this decision makes it more unlikely.

Yes, the dynamic on the Supreme Court can change. But it's a political loser for Republicans and it's a legal loser for Republicans. And I think for that reason, it's a significant moment because you're going to see a lot of progressives in Washington, who have already been moving in this direction, pushing for the next step. The next movement forward when it comes to changing how health care is dealt with in this country. It really does embolden that push that has been well under way for the last several years now.

BOLDUAN: The decision on standing, Jeffrey, means what for possible future challenges to this law? I mean, are you thinking that Obamacare's future is now secure?

TOOBIN: You know, they will be able to find plaintiffs who have standing. The -- it is worth remembering, before you think that Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh and John Roberts have turned into big liberals, conservatives in the judiciary always believe in the narrow standing. They like to keep challenges to laws out of court. John Roberts has devoted much of his career to this.

So, the idea of conservatives taking a hard line on standing is nothing new. There's a sub text here. We have heard this issue enough. And, yes, there was always -- the law as big as Obamacare, there will always be challenges around the fringes about what's covered and how extent of the law really is.

But in terms of whether this law survives, at least with a Supreme Court that includes the current three liberals, John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh, I don't see any chance for this court to overturn the entire Obamacare law anymore. It's got to be done through politics.

And I think Abby is right that at least at this moment, the wind is in the sails of people who want to expand Obamacare, not the people who want to get rid of it.

BOLDUAN: And in the political realm, I'm told that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she's just reacted to this ruling. For the first time, let's listen to what she said together.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We are, of course, happy, with the Supreme Court decision on the affordable care act. It's important to note this historic decision. Once again, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Accordable Care Act and the transformational projections that it provides every American, no matter where they get their coverage.


BOLDUAN: You know, you spoke to, Abby, the role Obamacare plays, how potent a political topic it is anymore. I mean, you don't hear the words repeal and replace at all anymore. And that was the entire message for two election cycles, at least, when it came in Republican campaigns.


BOLDUAN: I sometimes wonder, though, when -- is this animating? Is this animating in the sense that, they -- Republicans see it as, you know, Nancy Pelosi gets to walk around and claiming victory, this can animate our base once again? Or do you think they really do believe -- as it seems as reality at this point -- it is no longer a political winner?


PHILLIP: Yeah, you know, I honestly doubt it. I think that when you look at where the political energy is on the Republican Party, it is not on issues like health care. It's not even issues like taxes. It's on --


PHILLIP: -- you know, the cultural issues. It's on critical race theory. And even maybe to some extent the border. It's not on these issues.

And so, the Republicans are having a hard time motivating the base to go to the ballot box over this, like they did in 2012. And on the flip side of that, it is a major motivator on the

Democratic side. Democratic voters want to maintain the protections in the Affordable Act. They want their kids on their insurance until 26. They want coverage for pre-existing conditions.

And many -- increasingly many Democrats want to expand the role of government in some ways in health care, by moving towards something that approaches a single-payer system. So, the politics has shifted. And I think the Republican Party is just frankly moving in a different direction here. So, you know, I think the days of, you know, the Tea Party kind of coming into existence on the backs of this issue are more or less over.

BOLDUAN: It's a great -- it's a great insight.

Clarence Thomas, Jeffrey, supporting this ruling, this side of this. On its face, it seems surprising. What do you see here?

TOOBIN: It's surprising.

BOLDUAN: I'm glad -- I thought I might be missing something.

TOOBIN: I'm flabbergasted to see him on that. Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas vote together in almost every single case. And here, Gorsuch was with Justice Alito, as the only two dissenters.

I am completely flabbergasted to see Clarence Thomas on this side of the case. Obviously, his vote wasn't dispositive. But, you know, it is worth remembering. And I think people like me who think about the Supreme Court a lot, need to be reminded that these people are not robots.

I mean, they sometimes do things that are surprising. They sometimes vote in ways. You know, he didn't -- I believe I'm still, you know, is trying to digest. I don't believe he wrote a separate opinion. So, we don't know why he voted the way he did. He does believe in the narrow conception of standing, like the way a lot -- as a lot of conservatives do.

But the fact that he was with Justice Breyer's opinion, is very surprising to me. It's also surprising to me, that Amy Coney Barrett is on that side. You know, we know less about her philosophy on the Supreme Court. She's very new.

But the Thomas vote, it beats the hell out of me why he was on that side. That's why we cover the news, because stuff is unpredictable.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. And to I mean, just worth noting, as everyone can see, when you see who supported and dissented, who is in the majority here, two off Donald Trump's nominees to the court supported this decision. Of course, Neil Gorsuch is the one that did not. The statement that comes from Donald Trump because we know it will be coming.

Let's switch gears if we can because of the other decision, on the case involving a Catholic foster care agency refusing to place children with sex couples in Philadelphia. So, the Supreme Court on this rules in favor of the Catholic care agency, unanimously, which was refusing to work with same-sex couples here.

This, Jeffrey, was seen as a big case on questions of religious freedom and discrimination and gay rights. Your reaction to the ruling?

TOOBIN: It's part of the big political movement. You know, I was thinking as Abby was saying, you know, the struggle against Obamacare has really lost a lot of steam. But one thing that has replaced it is the struggle for what conservatives called religious liberty is, you know, do religious institutions and religious people have to follow the rules as everyone else?

And the argument has been that they have a First Amendment right, not to pay for contraception under the Affordable Care Act, if they have religious objections. And that was the Hobby Lobby case.


TOOBIN: Do they have a right to serve gay customers? Which is the Colorado bake shop case.

BOLDUAN: Colorado bake shop case, that's right.

TOOBIN: Which was not resolved definitively. But that issue is very much out there.

Here, you have a question of do religious institutions have to treat LGBT couples the same as everyone else when it comes to foster care? And the answer is no. They have permission to discriminate against gay people. That's how the plaintiffs see the case.

The defendants -- the winning side saw the cases as they have the right to bring their religious beliefs into their assignment of foster care apparent. These issues are cropping up everywhere. Conservatives are on the ascendancy politically and in the judiciary on this case.


And while there was a narrowly written decision, the bigger message is that religious liberty, as they call it, is very much in the ascendancy.

BOLDUAN: Abby, this gets to -- I mean, he's laying this -- Jeff is laying out kind of where the -- I don't know if you call them fault lines, but how this is a big political question as well, religious freedom versus discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is a big part of political debate today. I'm curious where this decision leaves that.

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, I think Jeffrey is absolutely right, that this is where the sort of momentum politically on the right is. And it extends beyond, even, gay couples.

I think what you're seeing is a movement at the state level also to start this process of -- you know, when it comes to transgender rights, you're seeing Republican state after Republican state, trying to weigh in on this issue, preventing trans kids from participating in sports, et cetera.

These are related issues. And I think that at some point, it's all going to come to a head and it raises some significant questions about equal protection under the law and whether or not that applies to people who are gay, people who are transgender. And to what extent the state can give institutions -- religious institutions or otherwise a path to say, I don't want to serve these people because I disagree with their gender identity or their sexual orientation. And that might, you know, will the courts allow that? I think this is a major, major unsettled issue and it's a major cultural issue that has not been resolved in this country.

TOOBIN: And, Kate, if I can just add one -- another way this issue is manifesting itself is that religious institutions are getting more access to government money. You know, religious schools are figuring out ways to get subsidized, whether it's through direct tuition assistance, whether it's through paying for the building of playgrounds, the paying for school lunches, the paying for textbooks in religious schools. You know, historically, there have been rules in place that says the government cannot subsidize religion.

So, at the same they are asking for exemptions from requirements that are imposed on everyone else, they are getting access to government money in ways -- in bigger ways than they have before. It's a powerful movement and it's winning.

BOLDUAN: It's an interesting point. Thank you both very much.

Coming up for us, Republicans escalating their denials and lies about what happened in the Capitol insurrection. One of the officers in the attack, he is speaking out.

Stay with us.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BOLDUAN: We're continuing to follow the breaking news coming in, that the Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, in a 7-2 decision that will leave the law as is, and save health care for millions of Americans at the very same time.

Joining me right now is Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. He is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, a lot to get to, but, first, this big decision. Your reaction to the ruling from the Supreme Court leaving intact Obamacare?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, a great day of relief for tens of millions of Americans, who have insurance under the Affordable Care Act. In the midst of a global pandemic, the last thing we need is to have the insurance coverage of millions of Americans struck down. And it's time for Republicans and their cohorts to stop attacking the insurance security of about 30 million Americans that have found coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

BOLDUAN: Do you think that once and for all, Obamacare is the future and fate of Obamacare is secure after this?

MENENDEZ: Well, I have no doubt that our Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act will continue to find ways to try to challenge it. But, you know, they've had three strikes and you're out already. It seems to me that they need to reconcile themselves that this is the law of the land. It provides health insurance for 30 million Americans, who are probably increased as people continuously need the coverage, especially in the midst of the global pandemic.

I'm convinced that it will stay and as one of its authors on the Senate Finance Committee, I'm glad to see that this day has come.

BOLDUAN: Senator, if we could change gears now to foreign policy as President Biden has just returned from his overseas trip, his big face to face meeting with Vladimir Putin.

And the takeaway on that summit from the top Republican of the House, just came in. Kevin McCarthy, he says that Biden gave Putin a, quote, pass.

He put out a statement today. Let me read what it said in part: President Biden should have used today's summit to stand up for our national interest and send a message to the world that the United States will hold Russia accountable for its long list of transgressions. Unfortunately, McCarthy says, President Biden gave Vladimir Putin a pass.

Senator, what do you say to that?

MENENDEZ: I think Leader McCarthy's statement is laughable. Where was he when Donald Trump stood alongside of Vladimir Putin and basically accepted all of Putin's denials about the attacks he had created, cyberattacks, election meddling he had created on the United States, and said, I believe Putin, I don't believe my own intelligence agencies?


Even though there was unanimous view of all of the intelligence agencies of the United States, that Russia under Putin had tried to undermine our elections. Where was he when a lack of real sanctions on a whole host of things that Russia did? Was -- he was totally absent.

And just recently, Trump said he had a good meeting with Putin in 2018. Now, I know he embraces Donald Trump. I guess he embraces the view that that meeting was a good meeting. It was not a good meeting for the United States. It was really a dark moment in our foreign affairs policy. President Biden did what needs to be done as a president. Stand up to

our allies and stand up to those who wish us harm. Putin got a real clear message. And the way he acted in a press conference, was a Putin that was far less confident, far less brazen than I've seen in previous press conferences.

BOLDUAN: And also, before departing, we not only got Biden's kind of assessment of the Putin summit, but it feels like we got something more, a statement from Joe Biden on how he sees the world in this moment. Let me play this for you.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The world has raised a fundamental point of what it's going to look like ten years from now. I mean that literally. It's not hyperbole. It's not like I'm trying to pump it up. I think it's genuine reality.

And so, each of the countries around the world, particularly those who had real power at one time or still do, are wondering, what -- how do I maintain and sustain our leadership in the world? Every generation has to re-establish the basis and its fight for democracy. I mean, for real. You literally have to do it.


BOLDUAN: It feels like Biden was laying out his world view and the role of America in it right now. What world view is it?

MENENDEZ: Well, Kate, I do think the president is right when he says an inflection point. As someone who has done foreign policy in the House and the Senate for 30 years, I've never seen a more challenging moment of a confluence of global events that the United States faces. The challenge of China, the single most geostrategic challenge of the United States and I think most of the Western world has. The continuing challenge of revengeous (ph) Russia, a North Korea with nuclear weapons, and Iran that seeks nuclear weapons. You know, the incivility in the Western hemisphere with Venezuela and what's happening in Nicaragua.

So, I think we are at an inflection point. And this is why American leadership is so critically important. We had a void for the last four years under President Trump. That void was filled by China and Russia.

We are back at the table. We are leading. This is important to America.

We saw that in COVID-19, you know, when we have a global pandemic. How do we deal with such a global issue? We saw it with questions of energy costs here in the United States, based on what happens abroad. See it in terms of markets that we want to be open, to sell American goods and services.

So, leading in the world right now is not only part of the America's history, but it's also in the national interest and security of the United States. BOLDUAN: And what comes from it, we will see.

Senator, chairman, thank you for coming on.

Coming up for us --

MENENDEZ: Thank you. Good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, Republicans continue to try to reframe, rewrite, and get you to not believe what you see with your eyes, right there, about January 6th and the Capitol insurrection, and the horrific events you see on your screen. The latest -- and there's a new twist on the Republican efforts to downplay and deny the events of that day.