This is the most important week of President Obama’s bid for a second term in November.
●The Supreme Court will rule not only on the constitutionality of Obama’s landmark health-care law, but the highest court in the country also will hand down judgment on Arizona’s stringent illegal immigration law.
●Congress will be forced into action (or inaction) on federal student loans and highway projects — both of which will expire within the next week.
Any one of those issues — in isolation — would be a major political event with resultant consequences on the presidential race. Combined them all in the space of a week and we may well look back at this coming seven days as where/when Obama’s second term bid was made/broken.
“We are in a short period right now where the candidates and the terms of the presidential debate will be defined, with several critical issues coming to a head and voters’ perceptions of the economy, and who will best deal with it, clarifying,” said Steve Rosenthal, a longtime Democratic strategist.
First among equals when it comes to its impact on the dialogue of the presidential race is the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act, which is set to be handed down either Monday or Thursday.
The administration and Democrats spent the better part of a year wrestling the bill through Congress amid unified Republican opposition and worries within their party that they were doing too much too fast. When he signed the legislation into law, Obama touted it as a historic moment — insisting he had done something that seven presidents had tried and failed to do — and telling ABC’s Charlie Gibson in December 2009 that “this will be the single most important piece of domestic legislation passed since Social Security.”
Given that proclamation, if the Court rules against the law it’s hard not to see it as a repudiation of a major part of Obama’s first term in office.
“The health-care decision alone makes this the most important week of the campaign,” said Dan Schnur, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California and communications director for the 2000 presidential bid of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). “No one really knows how the court decision will motivate or discourage the two sides of the debate, but it’s hard to see any other real-world event between now and the election that carries such a large emotional impact for so many voters.”
Andy Stern, the former head of the Service Employees International Union, said he was focusing most of his attention on health care, too — due to what’s at stake from a policy and political perspective.
If the Court upholds the law, it will “fire the passion of [the] anti-Obamacare base” while also “incentivizing supporters about how without an [Obama] reelection health care is doomed.”
While health care deserves its status as the most politically powerful moment of the week, it’s far from the only one.
Immigration has emerged as a hot-button issue of late, with Obama making a direct appeal to the growing Hispanic vote by announcing that his administration would cease to deport young illegal immigrants. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney sought to counter Obama’s move by announcing a series of policy proposals during a speech in Florida last week to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).
No matter how the Court rules on the Arizona law, which, among other things, broadens the latitude of police to detain those who they suspect may be in the country illegally, both Obama and Romney will be forced to react to it — and how they do so will be closely watched by the Latino community.
In Congress, time is running out on a long-standing stalemate — what else is new — over funding for federal highway projects, and a dispute over the interest rate paid on federal student loans, which is set to double on July 1 if no action has taken.
Obama, who is doing his best to run against the unpopular Republican Congress at the moment, seized on both issues during his weekly Saturday address. “This makes no sense,” Obama said of the impasse. “It’s up to the House . . . to put aside partisan posturing, end the gridlock, and do what’s right for the American people.”
Then there is the matter of the contempt vote for Holder, which House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced would be held this week soon after the attorney general was held in contempt (on a party-line vote) in the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week. This amounts to a game of political chicken where both sides continue to pump the gas and steer directly for each other.
Add it all up and you have one very consequential political week to come. In the words of Democratic operative Paul Begala: “You cannot win the election in June, but you can certainly lose it.”