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House Committee chairmen demand info on DOJ's decision not to support Obamacare in court

Trump: Health care vote after 2020 election
Trump punts health care vote until after 2020 election 01:27

As President Trump has vowed that the Republican party will be the "party of health care,"  five Democratic committee chairmen are demanding that administration officials turn over documents and information related to the Justice Department's decision to stop defending the entirety of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Court. 

In letters obtained by CBS News, Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA), Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY)  are asking for any documents related to the court filing. They have issued a deadline of April 22 for turning over the information. 

The lawmakers say that all agencies, including the White House, owe "Congress and the public an explanation as to why it refuses to enforce the law." The Democrats have also requested that certain individuals be made available for congressional questioning on the issue at hand. 

The push for documents comes after the Justice Department submitted its filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans last month, which has an appeal pending challenging the law's constitutionality. A federal judge in Texas ruled back in December that Obamacare is unconstitutional because of the change in federal tax law passed by Republicans in Congress in 2017.

"The Department of Justice has determined that the district court's judgment should be affirmed," the Justice Department wrote in a recent memo. The Democrats argue, however, that if the legal position prevails in court and the entire ACA is struck down, "there would be catastrophic implications" for millions of Americans and the U.S. health care system, with 21 million Americans at risk of losing their coverage. 

In their letter to Attorney General William Barr, the lawmakers called the DOJ's decision to strike down the ACA "troubling," warning that the the move will have a "significant negative impact on the accessibility of health care for Americans." The Democrats also suggest that the decision largely appears be politically motivated, rather than a substantial legal argument. 

"We recognize that as an officer of the Executive Branch, the Attorney General serves at the pleasure of the president. It is also within the president's authority to direct or steer the Department's litigation positions for civil cases. However, as the litigator for the United States and its administrative agencies, the Department has an obligation to ensure these positions are supported by sound legal or factual arguments," the chairmen wrote. 

In another letter directed to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, the lawmakers argued that the president is "attempting to override the will of Congress" and has demonstrated a "clear disregard" for the obligation to uphold the Constitution. 

"It has also demonstrated that it is willing to undermine DOJ's independent responsibility to enforce the law, as well as longstanding, bipartisan tradition of defending laws enacted by the United States Congress," they add. 

While Mr. Trump has renewed his calls for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, he and other Republicans have insisted that they support protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions. But if the ACA were to be invalidated as the DOJ seeks, insurers would not be required to cover pre-existing conditions.

Despite vowing to take up his campaign promise to abolish the ACA, the president now appears to be delaying those efforts until after the 2020 election. Republicans tried and failed to unite around a plan repeal and replace the law in 2017 when they controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House. 

During a press conference shortly after revealing the letter, Chairman Nadler told reporters on Capitol Hill that Republicans have had 8 years of Republican control of the House in order to pass a replacement for the ACA, but "could never agree on a replacement."

"Frankly, I don't think they can come up with a plan as good as the ACA given what they want to do," said Nadler. The chairman added that he was "hopeful" AG Barr and members of the Trump administration would reply to Democrats' requests in a "professional" manner. 

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