The Supreme Court's Thursday ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, that upheld a core tenet of the Affordable Care Act is good news for the millions of Americans whose health insurance was on the line. But it's also, in a strange way, good news for a completely different group: the Republican politicians who have all but called for Obamacare to be shot into space on a rocket.
Had the court gone the other way, gutting federal subsidies while leaving the shell of the law on the books, congressional Republicans, as well as GOP governors such as Scott Walker and Chris Christie, would have been put in the uncomfortable position they've managed to avoid since Obamacare was signed into law—having to fix it. The Associated Press outlined Walker's dilemma neatly on Wednesday:
About 183,000 people in Wisconsin purchase their insurance through the exchange and nine out of 10 of them are receiving a federal subsidy, according to an analysis of state data by Wisconsin Children and Families. The average tax credit they receive is $315 a month.
Health care advocates who have been critical of Walker for not taking federal money to pay for expanding Medicaid coverage have also called on the Republican second-term governor to prepare for the subsidies to be taken away.
And many of those Wisconsonites enrolled in the federal exchange are there because Walker put them there. As Bloomberg's Joshua Green noted in a prescient piece in March, Walker booted 83,000 people from the state's Medicaid program and put them on the federal exchange instead. That's not the kind of crisis you want to be dealing with in the middle of a presidential campaign—or ever.
Conservatives would have been thrilled with a ruling in their favor on Thursday. But Roberts' decision spares Walker and his colleagues from what would have come next, and frees them to continue lobbing rhetorical bombs at the law they're now stuck with. As previous generations of Washington Republicans can advise, it's much easier to go to war if you don't need a plan for how to end it.
Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal launched his presidential campaign on Wednesday by releasing a video—a very strange video. In it, he and his wife, Supriya, break the news to their three kids that he'll be spending much of the next six months (at least) in Iowa. What makes it so unusual is that it appears to have been filmed with a camera hidden in a tree. Jindal himself is partially obscured by a large branch. His kids don't sound particularly excited about their father's presidential bid. Maybe they've seen the polls.
I had to tell a few people first. But I want you to be next. I’m running for President of the United States of America. Join me: http://www.bobbyjindal.com/announcement/
Update: Sen. Thad Cochran, the state's senior senator, has joined his colleague in appealing to the state legislature to change the Mississippi flag. "it is my personal hope that the state government will consider changing its flag," he said in a statement. The original story is below:
When Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) was asked on Sunday about removing the Confederate cross from his state's flag, he demurred. That decision "should be up to the Mississippi legislature and the people of the state," he argued. But 48 hours later, he has changed his mind. On Wednesday, he released a statement calling for the current incarnation of the flag to be "put in the museum" and replaced with something else:
After reflection and prayer, I now believe our state flag should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying to all Mississippians. As the descendant of several brave Americans who fought for the Confederacy, I have not viewed Mississippi’s current state flag as offensive. However, it is clearer and clearer to me that many of my fellow citizens feel differently and that our state flag increasingly portrays a false impression of our state to others.
In I Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul said he had no personal objection to eating meat sacrificed to idols. But he went on to say that "if food is a cause of trouble to my brother, or makes my brother offend, I will give up eating meat." The lesson from this passage leads me to conclude that the flag should be removed since it causes offense to so many of my brothers and sisters, creating dissention rather than unity.
This is an issue to be decided by the legislature and other state government officials and not dictated by Washington. If I can be part of a process to achieve consensus within our state, I would welcome the opportunity to participate.
Wicker joins the chancellor of the University of Mississippi, the nephew of former Gov. Haley Barbour, and the state's Republican speaker of the House among other prominent Mississippians who have called for the Confederate symbol to go after the murder of nine African American parishioners at a church last week in Charleston, South Carolina.
Science was never supposed to be an issue for Bobby Jindal. The Louisiana governor rose through the ranks of the Republican party on the strength of his reputation as a Rhodes Scholar whiz kid, a former Brown pre-med with an eye for the intricacies of health policy. But since taking office, he has been dogged by accusations that he's playing politics with science education. In 2008, Jindal supported a law that makes it easier for biology teachers to "teach the controversy" on the theory of evolution. His stance on the issue has earned him unfavorable attention outside the state. In 2012, when he was briefly floated as a potential vice presidential candidate, Slate dubbed it "Bobby Jindal's science problem."
The image of Jindal as an anti-science hypocrite is largely the product of one man—Zack Kopplin, a 21-year-old history major at Rice University. Kopplin has spent much of the last five years campaigning against Jindal's approach to the teaching of evolution, which Kopplin considers a backdoor invitation to teach creationism. He has testified before the state legislature and has made appearances on Hardball, NPR, and Real Time With Bill Maher (alongside Bernie Sanders). Here he is with Bill Moyers:
Kopplin is Bobby Jindal's biggest troll. He's also the son of a Jindal family friend.
The relationship dates back to the mid-90s. Kopplin's father, Andy Kopplin, is currently the deputy mayor of New Orleans, serving under Democrat Mitch Landrieu. But it was in an earlier job, as chief of staff to former Louisiana Republican Gov. Murphy Foster, that the elder Kopplin became friends with Jindal. In 1996, Foster hired a 24-year-old Jindal to run the state's Department of Health and Hospitals—Jindal's first full-time job in government. "He had two protegés: Gov. Jindal and my father," the younger Kopplin says. "At the time they got along pretty well. My mom now swears that she never really liked Jindal, but they went out to dinner pretty regularly." When Jindal first ran for governor in 2003 (a race he lost in a runoff to Democrat Kathleen Blanco), Kopplin remembers trying to persuade his classmates to support the Republican candidate, although none of them were old enough to vote.
The turning point for Kopplin came in 2008, when the state legislature passed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which purported to "help students understand, analyze, critique and review scientific theories." But the subtext seemed clear. The bill, which Jindal signed into law, opened a potential backdoor to the teaching of intelligent design by allowing teachers to introduce supplementary materials that hadn't been approved by the state's Department of Education. The law was written by a social conservative organization called the Louisiana Family Forum, in consultation with the Discovery Institute, a pro-intelligent-design think tank. The Democratic state senator who introduced the bill explained at the time that its supporters believed that "scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory." Kopplin decided to devote his senior year of high school in Baton Rouge to fighting the new law. He started a petition and got 75 Nobel laureates to sign it. Even Jindal's college genetics teacher was on board.
Kopplin got 75 Nobel laureates to sign a petition opposing Louisiana's science education law. Even Jindal's college genetics teacher was on board.
Jindal, who studied biology at Brown and was considering Harvard Medical School before attending Oxford, has left a bit of a paper trail as to where he really stands. In 1995, while still a student in England, he published an essay in a small Catholic journal, This Rock, attacking atheism. He asserted that there was "much controversy over the fossil evidence for evolution," and he put himself squarely in the camp of intelligent design. "No evolutionary biologist has produced or ever will produce a conclusion with any relevance to the necessity of God," he argued. "At best he can push the location of the supernatural assumption from the origin of life to the origin of matter, energy, and order."
But Kopplin, who attended the same magnet school in Baton Rouge as Jindal's two kids currently do, suspects the governor's support for the law is purely political. "I mean, who knows? I could be totally wrong, and maybe Jindal believes this with his whole heart," Kopplin says. "Which is more why I go back to what his kids are learning. I had their seventh-grade biology teacher at [University Laboratory School] where I went for middle school, and I know she doesn't just teach evolution—she's absolutely obsessive about it. If Jindal actually was a creationist, I think he'd have a much bigger problem with his kids being taught what evolution is."
Case in point: Last September, Jindal told reporters that he wanted his kids to study evolution in school, but he added that he was "not an evolutionary biologist" and emphasized that he thought the decision on what to teach should be up to individual school districts.
Since the initial campaign against the Louisiana Science Education Act, Kopplin has continued to beat the drum on what he views as the erosion of public schools. He has broadened his focus to include the governor's voucher program, which diverts state money to religious schools that question evolution and openly discriminate against students who violate their moral code. (At one such institution, students can be expelled if a family member promotes the "homosexual lifestyle.") And Kopplin has expanded his push to Texas, where he discovered that students at the state's biggest charter school network were being taught that the "sketchy" fossil record undermines the theory of evolution.
Although he still has three credit hours left at Rice, he has continued to keep the pressure on Jindal. He has published six pieces at Slate in just the last seven months, four of which focused on the former family friend. And he expects to continue churning out stories as the race for the Republican presidential nomination heats up. Jindal "does bring out my best writing," Kopplin says, "because I sort of know the environment he's around pretty well—I know his kids' biology teachers!"
Update (6/24/2015): Webb has weighed in on his Facebook page, writing that "[t]his is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognizes the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War." He calls for "mutual respect" and says the flag shouldn't be used "as a political symbol that divides us," but does not take any clear stance on the flag publicly displayed on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse. Read the original story below:
By now, every 2016 presidential contender from both parties—those announced, those undeclared—has weighed in on the Confederate flag controversy that erupted after last week's mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, except for one: Democrat Jim Webb.
A former senator from Virginia, Webb has defended the Confederate Army and the rebel flag in the past. But on Monday, when contacted by the Washington Times, he declined to comment on the ongoing controversy over whether the Confederate banner should continue to fly on the grounds of the state Capitol in South Carolina. On Tuesday, Webb's spokesman, Craig Crawford, told Mother Jones in an email that Webb "just has not been on the habit of commenting on news of the day. He's not an official candidate." Webb has previously said he plans to make an official announcement on running for president by the end of June.