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Health Care Law Stands, Marriage Equality Expands: What Now For Republicans?


The Supreme Court's ruling this past week made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states and ensured Obamacare would remain the law of the land. The White House is celebrating, but the court's decisions are forcing Republicans to consider new political strategies on healthcare and gay marriage. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Eric.

WESTERVELT: So, the Supreme Court provided huge wins for President Obama and his party. Does this give a big boost to the president's second-term agenda or is there tricky territory ahead for Democrats?

LIASSON: It's hard to see what the tricky territory is. This was a huge unadulterated win on both fronts, but the administration still has the burden of making Obamacare workable so it has to keep on implementing it competently. On gay marriage, it's hard to see any pitfalls. Hillary Clinton is now on the side of the rising American electorate, which includes big majorities, especially among young people who are for gay marriage. And yesterday, at a big rally in Virginia, Clinton said that the Republican Party is the party of the past.

WESTERVELT: All the Republican presidential candidates said they disagreed with the court's gay marriage ruling. Have they indicated any substantive differences of opinion on this issue for the campaign ahead, Mara?

LIASSON: Yes, they have. There really are two camps. All of them are for traditional marriage. They all said they would try to resist this ruling, but how they would resist it is what separates them. Some say they would appoint conservative justices. Others say they would push for a constitutional amendment. You know, the court gave Republicans an opportunity - this is settled law, now they can move on to talk about something else. But, it's a political dilemma for them because a majority of Americans are for gay marriage, but the majority of Republicans are against it, and they are running in a Republican primary and appealing to an anti-gay marriage base. Jeb Bush, for instance, in his statement this week - clearly thinking about the general election - made sure to say he respects people who disagree with him and make lifelong commitments in marriage. He's trying to achieve, through a change of tone, what he can't through policy.

WESTERVELT: Moving to health care, Mara, the Affordable Care Act was upheld once again by the Supreme Court this week. Every Republican leader in Congress issued a statement expressing disappointment with the ruling. What are they not saying, publicly?

LIASSON: Well, they're publicly disappointed but privately relieved because they don't have to fix the mess that would've happened if 6.5 million people lost their insurance overnight, and a majority of those people would have been in red states - southern states - mostly low-income white people who vote for Republicans. So, they're off the hook. There is a silver lining for Republicans.

WESTERVELT: What are the Republican options, here? Are there any viable avenues left for opponents opposing the Affordable Care Act?

LIASSON: Not through the courts. They certainly could elect a Republican president and maintain hold on the Congress and hope the law remains unpopular, even though it seems like it's getting a little bit less unpopular, and then try to chip away at it legislatively. That's about it for them.

WESTERVELT: So, Mara, in one sense, these rulings could be seen as a positive for Republicans, in that they can move on to other issues.

LIASSON: They can. The court gave Republicans an opportunity, but now they have to take advantage of it. The culture wars are changing. The terms of the debate around social issues have shifted. This week made it official. You know, social issues like abortion and prayer and gay rights used to work against Democrats. Now, they work against Republicans, and the Republican Party has to figure out what it's going to do. And what's particularly exciting and compelling is they're going to figure it out in real-time, in person, in the Republican presidential primary.

WESTERVELT: Mara, there were other big victories for the president this week. He got his trade agenda passed with help from some Republicans, and this week also saw a big political and cultural shift toward the Confederate flag across much of the Deep South.

LIASSON: That's right. The Confederate flag, which was the cause of so much divisive debate, was taken down in Alabama by a Republican governor. The Republican governors of Mississippi and South Carolina have started a process that will probably result in the Confederate flag coming down in those states, too. Now, it took a horrific massacre of nine black worshipers in a church to make it happen, but I think it's just another example of how the cultural debate in this country is really shifting.

WESTERVELT: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Eric. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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