By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
In the wake of yesterday’s ruling by a federal judge in Florida declaring the new health care law unconstitutional, potential 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney vigorously defended a similar plan he helped pass as governor of Massachusetts in 2006.
“I’m not apologizing for it, I’m indicating that we went in one direction and there are other possible directions,” Romney said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America” today. “I’d like to see states pursue their own ideas, see which ideas work best.” http://abcn.ws/gaG9Y4
Romney conceded that he would probably push for a somewhat different law if he had to do it over again, and offered praise for Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida, who ruled yesterday that the individual mandate, which requires individuals to purchase health care by 2014 or pay a penalty, violates the constitution. http://abcn.ws/dOMIyx
“The right thing for the president to do now,” Romney advised is to “press the pause button and say, 'You know what, let's hold back on this Obamacare.'"
That’s unlikely to happen, according to the White House, which called the ruling an “outlier” and expressed confidence it would be overturned on appeal. Notably, Judge Vinson did not order the government to stop implementing the law.
The law that Romney pushed for in Massachusetts included a similar individual mandate, and it’s clear that this is just the beginning of what will be a very awkward set of talking points for Romney heading into the 2012 race. The White House is going to make sure of it.
Obama adviser David Axelrod, who is decamping to Chicago to begin setting up the president’s re-election operation, made a point of mentioning Romney’s previous health care reform work in an exit interview with USA Today.
Romney “did some interesting things there on health care,” Axelrod said. “We got some good ideas from him.” http://usat.ly/fb94m9
WHITE HOUSE WATCH. White House Deputy Senior Adviser Stephanie Cutter issued a blog statement pushing back on the judge’s ruling yesterday, ABC’s Sunlen Miller notes. "Individuals who choose to go without health insurance are actively making an economic decision that impacts all of us," she wrote. "As Congress found, every year millions of people without insurance obtain health care they cannot pay for, shifting tens of billions of dollars in added cost onto those who have insurance and onto taxpayers." http://abcn.ws/emNA3T
ROMNEY ON EGYPT. Romney has few quarrels with the way the administration is handling the situation in Egypt, he told Stephanopoulos this morning: “I think that they got off to a rocky start. I think some of the statements early on were misguided. But I think they corrected and they said they want to see transition, I think that’s right,” he said in the interview. “I don’t know that I would say to the president ‘You should call for Mubarak’s resignation,’” Romney continued. “That I think flies in the face of a long history of friendship between he and our country and our friends, but it is very clear that [Mubarak] needs to move on and transition to the voices of democracy.” http://abcn.ws/gaG9Y4
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Karen Travers welcome former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, the current CEO of the American Action Network. Coleman called yesterday’s health care ruling “a positive step toward real healthcare reform that will lower costs, protect jobs, and ensure quality care for all without busting the budget.” Also on the program, Dana Milbank of The Washington Post. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
EGYPT UPDATE. “Egyptian authorities battled to save President Hosni Mubarak's regime with a series of concessions and promises to protesters, but realities on the streets of Cairo may be outrunning his capacity for change,” according to the AP’s Steven R. Hurst. “Under increasingly strong U.S. pressure to make ‘an orderly transition’ to democracy and opposition calls for 1 million people to flood the streets of Egyptian cities Tuesday, Mubarak's newly appointed and first-ever vice president said he had been ordered to engage with "political forces" for constitutional and legislative reforms. Mubarak's military -- the bulwark of Egyptian society -- joined in, promising not to open fire on demonstrators and accepting ‘the legitimacy of the people's demands.’ Those concessions, stunning in the context of Mubarak's iron-fisted 30-year tenure, suggest he knows his time at the top may be growing short.” http://yhoo.it/eEA9cW
Egypt in Crisis: Tens of thousands take to the streets calling for President Mubarak's removal. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/hObMec
HEALTH CARE TIMELINE. “A Senate vote to repeal healthcare reform could come as early as this week, a senior Republican senator said Tuesday,” The Hill’s Michael O’Brien reports. “Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) wrote that the Senate could vote on House-passed legislation to do away with President Obama's signature healthcare law. … Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have vowed to force a Senate vote to repeal healthcare reform. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) introduced legislation mirroring the House's repeal bill, which passed through the lower chamber, and by Monday, all GOP senators had signed onto it as co-sponsors, suggesting a united Republican front for repeal in the Senate.” http://bit.ly/dXnFb4
IN THE HUNT(SMAN). A White House official confirmed that U.S. Ambassador to China and former Utah Gov. John Huntsman delivered a letter of resignation to the White House on Monday and that he expects to be out of his job as ambassador by April 30th. The move paves the way for a possible presidential run for Huntsman. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs addressed Huntsman’s impending departure at yesterday's press briefing: “When the President picked him in 2009, it was because we believed, and continue to believe, he brings a broad range of experience to an extremely important ambassadorial post with one of our most important relationships in the world. The President continues to believe that. … I’ve talked to several people in the building, and I have not heard anybody say they know what the future holds for Ambassador Huntsman, except to say, as I said earlier, that he will leave sometime in the first part of the year.” http://abcn.ws/fPKToc
TESTING TESTER. “Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) will announce Saturday he is challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.),” Roll Call’s Kyle Trygstad reports. “ ‘It’s happening Saturday,’ said a knowledgeable Montana GOP political operative. ‘He’s running. There is a lot of support and enthusiasm back home, and Denny knows he can win.’ Rehberg’s status as a well-known at-large Congressman immediately pushes the matchup between the two Big Sky State politicians to among the most competitive Senate races in the country. Recent polling conducted for the Rehberg campaign bears that out.” http://bit.ly/g1GkzK
NOTED: A Republican source tells the Note that “with this expected announcement, Senate Republicans will already have serious declared challengers in Montana, Missouri, Nebraska, and Virginia. And several very serious candidates looking at the open seat in North Dakota where we’re favored, as well as several good candidates in Florida. And it’s only the first week in February. In contrast, the Dems don’t even have an announced candidate in their top target of Massachusetts yet." The Note’s caveat: At this point in 2009, we saw Senate Democrats dominating the electoral landscape too, and Dems point out that the Tea Party could disrupt the GOP’s best-laid plans in 2012.
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