U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said Thursday that President Barack Obama's statement that it would be unprecedented for the Supreme Court to strike down Obama's signature health care law was meant to "intimidate" the court and should be "intolerable" to all Americans.
The Republican Senate minority leader said in Lexington that Obama's statements Monday — which Obama has since tried to soften — are part of the administration's pattern of trying to "delegitimize" the Supreme Court and weaken its independence. McConnell called on Obama to respect the independence of the court and "back off."
"With his words, he was no longer trying to embarrass the court after a decision; rather, he tried to intimidate it before a decision has been made. And that should be intolerable to all of us," McConnell said.
His response to Obama's comments was delivered during a speech to the Lexington Rotary Club, a business group. During the speech, McConnell also was critical of Obama's economic policies, saying the president had overregulated businesses and added trillions of dollars to the country's debt.
Obama, in a speech Monday in the Rose Garden, said he was confident that the Supreme Court "will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress."
Republicans and legal scholars quickly pounced on the statement. The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned laws for more than two centuries. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was approved by a slim majority.
Obama modified his remarks Tuesday, saying the Supreme Court has not overturned Congress on key economic issues since the 1930s. Obama also said the Supreme Court had the "final say on our Constitution and our laws."
Obama's statements came after justices last week heard oral arguments in the case challenging the health care act. Justices asked many pointed questions during three days of oral arguments, which some said showed that the court might rule against the controversial law.
White House press secretary Jay Carney was peppered with questions from reporters about Obama's comments Thursday. "His whole point is that he is pretty conversant with judicial precedent," Carney said. Obama was an adjunct law lecturer at the University of Chicago.
"And judicial precedent here is clear," Carney said, "overwhelmingly on the side" of upholding the health care law.
He called Obama's observation "unremarkable," noting "there has been a long-standing precedent set where the court defers to Congress and to congressional authority in passing legislation to deal with and regulate matters of economic significance. That's all."
But McConnell said "the president crossed a dangerous line this week. And anyone who cares about liberty needs to call him out on it. The independence of the court must be defended."
Kentucky's longest-serving senator said that if the Supreme Court upholds the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, he would be disappointed but would respect the court's independence. McConnell pledged that he would not "mount a political campaign to de legitimize the court in the way some in Congress have been urging this president to do."
"I think his rhetoric was way out of bounds," McConnell said.
He also criticized many Obama economic policies during Thursday's speech.
Businesses are suffering under a mountain of regulations imposed by the Obama administration, McConnell said. Future generations will be crippled by the more than $5 trillion in debt Obama has added during the past four years, he said.
Obama cannot work with Congress on key economic issues, unlike former presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, McConnell said.
The latest economic figures on several fronts show the economy is improving. The Department of Labor released data that showed the number of people claiming unemployment in March was at a four-year low.
But McConnell said the recovery from the recession was "the most tepid recovery ... in American history." Why? "The government, itself, is making it extremely difficult for our entrepreneurial, enterprising economy to do what it normally does, which is to want to grow and expand."
When asked why Obama was leading in almost all polls against any potential Republican presidential candidate, McConnell said the protracted Republican primary has highlighted infighting in the party. But come the general election, he said he expected the conversation to turn to Obama and his record. McConnell predicted that Mitt Romney would be the Republican candidate.
"I think it's likely going to be a very close race," McConnell said.
David Lightman of the McClatchy Washington bureau contributed to this article. Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.