Chris Cillizza
Reporter March 30, 2012

Quick, name the solicitor general of the United States.

A week ago, it was hard to imagine that more than 10 percent of the population — and that’s being generous — could do it. Now, after three days of oral arguments on President Obama’s health-care law in front of the Supreme Court, lots more people know the name Donald B. Verrilli Jr. When you are the solicitor general, that’s bad news.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House. View Archive

Verrilli was tasked by the administration with arguing for the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The first day seemed to go just fine, in that relatively little news was made.

But soon after the court released the audio — welcome to 1980! — of the second day of the proceedings, the day dedicated to debating the constitutionality of the individual mandate, it became clear to the law’s backers that something had gone terribly, horribly wrong.

In the recording, Verrilli — who is widely described by those who know him well as a deft and accomplished lawyer — repeatedly pauses, excuses himself and generally appears lost during his presentation. (BuzzFeed, a news and politics Web site, cut his worst moments into a 39-second mashup that is painfully bad.)

So poorly did Verrilli perform in defending the individual mandate that some of the liberal justices interrupted him in a “what I really think you mean to say” moment, painting his struggles in even sharper relief.

Make no mistake: The court won’t rule solely based on Verrilli’s oratory skills — or lack thereof. The justices all came to the oral arguments with formed opinions on the subject. Still, in a political world forever in search of scapegoats, Verrilli turned himself into one — big time.

Don Verrilli, for hemming and hawing your way into the, uh, er, um, history books, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

Have a candidate for the Worst Week in Washington? E-mail Chris Cillizza at chris.cillizza@wpost.com.

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