Romney suggests Roberts’ health care ruling motivated by politics

Holly Bailey

Mitt Romney suggested "political consideration" rather than legal judgment may have played a major role in why Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts voted to uphold President Barack Obama's health care law last week.

Asked about reports that Roberts switched his vote on the Affordable Care Act, Romney questioned Roberts' motivation in an interview with CBS News, which was broadcast Thursday.

"It gives the impression that the decision was made not based upon constitutional foundation but instead political consideration about the relationship between branches of government," Romney told CBS News. "But we won't really know the answers to those things until the justice himself speaks out—maybe sometime in history."

Romney, who had previously said he would nominate judges in the "mold of Justice Roberts," hinted he might rethink that position in light of the chief justice's ruling.

"I certainly wouldn't nominate someone who I knew was gonna come out with a decision I violently disagreed with—or vehemently, rather—disagreed with," Romney said. "He reached a conclusion I think that was not accurate and not an appropriate conclusion. "

Romney's comments came as part of a larger interview, taped Wednesday, in which he said he now views the federal mandate for individuals to obtain health care under Obama's law as a "tax"—not a penalty, as his senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom had suggested in an interview with MSNBC on Monday. Romney's position, as laid out by Fehrnstrom, clashed with the message of other key Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, who have seized on the Supreme Court's ruling to argue that Obama is essentially raising taxes on Americans.

Under pressure from conservatives, Romney appeared to try to shift his campaign's tone on the court ruling to appease his party without also making the health care mandate he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts an even greater liability for his campaign.

He told CBS News the mandate under Obama's law is a tax because the Supreme Court said so—quickly adding that he disagreed with the ruling.

"The Supreme Court has the final word, and their final word is that Obamacare is a tax. So it's a tax. They decided it was constitutional. So it is a tax and it's constitutional. That's the final word—that's what it is," Romney said. "I agreed with the dissent. I would have taken a different course, but the dissent wasn't the majority. The majority has rule and their rule is final. It is a tax. … That's the law of the land."

Asked if that now makes the insurance mandate he approved as governor of Massachusetts a tax increase, Romney insisted it did not because last week's Supreme Court ruling did not restrict states from implementing mandates.

'The chief justice in his opinion made it very clear that at the state level, states have the power to put in place mandates. They don't need to require them to be called taxes in order for them to be constitutional," Romney argued. "And as a result, Massachusetts' mandate was a mandate, was a penalty, was described that way by the legislature and by me, and so it stays as it was."

Under the Roberts' ruling, the federal government doesn't have the same "powers" as states, Romney told CBS. He argued that because the Supreme Court is the final law of the land, the mandate under Obama's health care is a "tax"—no matter what anyone else says.

"While I agreed with the dissent, that's taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said it's a tax and, therefore, it is a tax. They have spoken. There's no way around that," Romney said. "You can try and say you wished they had decided a different way, but they didn't. They concluded it was a tax. That's what it is."

While Romney appeared to be taking the position that the Supreme Court is the absolute law of the land, his political finessing of that point could renew criticism that he's often willing to change policy views for political expediency.