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Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare; Interview With Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

Aired June 28, 2012 - 22:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It's 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast.

A big day for the court behind me, for the White House and especially for millions of Americans without health insurance. We're not losing track of them tonight.

But because health care reform, which the Supreme Court affirmed today, was President Obama's signature political accomplishment and because the court's decision comes in the middle of a presidential campaign, the political dimension is more than just unavoidable. It is epic.

And so is the legal angle. Few expected the individual mandate, that people buy health insurance or pay a penalty, would survive. Fewer still expected Chief Justice John Roberts to save it, or to save it the way he did.

Writing for a 5-4 majority, he latched on to the penalty part, calling it a tax and deeming that constitutionally kosher.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know the debate over this law has been divisive. I respect the very real concerns that millions of Americans have shared. And I know a lot of coverage through this health care debate has focused on what it means politically. Well, it should be pretty clear by now that I didn't do this because it was good politics. I did it because I believed it was good for the country.


KING: President Obama today. And here's Mitt Romney.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As you might imagine, I disagree with the Supreme Court's decision. And I agree with the dissent. What the court did not do on its last day in session I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States. And that is, I will act to repeal Obamacare.


KING: Governor Romney called it bad law and bad policy. But "Keeping Them Honest," it is also nearly identical to his own plan as governor of Massachusetts. As for the mandate, well, "Keeping Them Honest," Justice Roberts today contradicted a key claim the president made. The president said that mandate was not a tax.


OBAMA: For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. What it's saying is, is that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you. Any more than the fact that right now everybody in America just about has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase.


KING: Nobody, that is except Chief Justice John Roberts. And Republicans have been running today with his formulation. But "Keeping Them Honest," if Justice Roberts is right, if the Obamacare mandate really is just a tax, then so is the Romneycare mandate in Massachusetts. Listen to how then Governor Romney defended that.


ROMNEY: It's not a tax hike. It is a fee. It's an assessment. We're currently assessing our employers -- the great majority of employers in Massachusetts are assessed this fee right now.


KING: The fee for not being insured now tops out about $1200. It was somewhat lower when Governor Romney was defending it. And just like President Obama, Mr. Romney said the fee, or tax or penalty, whatever you want to call it, was there to make sure nobody was free riding on the health care system. That was six years ago. A lot's changed since. Including, you'll remember these, those town halls three years ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is more about taking power and control than it is about health care. If only the first step to socialism.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want this country turning into Russia. Turning into a socialized country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do not want this nation to be socialist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do not want them involved in our health care decisions. We do not want Obamacare.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are we willing to take the best health care system in the world and throw it right out the window?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Government isn't the answer, it's the cancer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that our country is being stolen from us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How in the world are we going to pay for it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need to get the government the hell out of our way.


KING: That anger, it was palpable three years ago, so has it cooled since then? And how will today's ruling change the dynamic?

A lot ground to cover tonight including legal, political and medical. An expanded panel joins us momentarily.

I want to start, though, with Virginia lawmaker and Romney campaign adviser, Barbara Comstock.

Barbara, it's good to see you on this important day. We just saw Governor Romney on tape there insisting a mandate is necessary and that it's not a tax. Most of the Republican Party today spent the day insisting it is a tax and it isn't necessary.

Does that complicate the governor's message? The comparison between Massachusetts now? As a matter of fact, only two people in this country who put a health care mandate in place. He's one of them.

BARBARA COMSTOCK, SENIOR ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: No, not at all, because he was talking about a state policy. And this is a national policy where we're imposing from the top down on every single state. And what Governor Romney has said he will do on day one is he will give the states, all 50 states, a waiver from this national health care bill, so each state can go about doing what they want to do here.

This is about federalism and allowing states to decide what's best for them. In the case of Massachusetts, he decided there. But here, what is now happened is you have the American people having this $500 billion taxes imposed on all of them. Whether their state chooses to or not. $500 billion in Medicare cuts which nobody, you know, expected was going to happen in these things.

And this is something that the president very strongly said was not a tax. Argued with people like George Stephanopoulos. Every -- you know, most of the members who voted for this bill said it wasn't a tax increase. And today it's been made very clear. But there are a lot of hidden tax increases in this. Like taxes on investments. Taxes on medical devices. The takeaway taxes on flexible spending accounts that very -- many families with special needs children use.

So this is totally different and the good thing is that a President Mitt Romney...

KING: You said...

COMSTOCK: -- is going to repeal and replace... KING: You say -- right.

COMSTOCK: -- and not impose these -- these increased costs on states. You know he's going to allow...

KING: If you -- Barbara, let me jump in for a minute here. Let me jump in here. You say it's completely different. But if the mandate is, in fact, a tax, does that mean Mitt Romney introduced an ambitious health care plan that raised taxes in Massachusetts during a struggling economic recovery? Which is exactly what he says the president did?

COMSTOCK: No, It's totally different because here on the federal level, you have -- you're not allowing federalism, you're allowing the states to decide. In that state, Massachusetts decided what they wanted to do. Here, we're going to have a situation where, you know, he wants to have national bills that can do things like buy across state lines, you know, get rid of pre-existing conditions.

There's a lot of bipartisan agreement on things we could do on the national level. And then allow people on the state level to decide what they think is best for them. We could block grant Medicaid. That would be something that he supports and would be great for, you know, all the states if they choose to do it.

I would prefer to have that in Virginia. Be like welfare reform where Virginia would be able to go about and see their unique populations throughout their states. What would be best for those populations. And using those federal medicate dollars. And how best we can do it instead of having the state tell us, I mean, the national government tell us how we ought do it whether it -- you know, it's cost prohibit, and I know Obamacare is going to cost my state millions and millions of dollars. It will cut into K-12, college and transportation costs.

And that's why we were the first state to reject Obamacare. And that's why I think you'll see Virginia, which is a swing state, be very unhappy with this. This will hit our small businesses. Our high tech companies. That really need to get out from under this type of huge tax that's going to be hitting our small businesses and our families.

KING: Barbara, if you go to the governor's campaign Web site, it says that if elected president he would nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts. Anything about today's ruling maybe going to have the governor rethinking that one?

COMSTOCK: Well, I think he also says Chief Justice Roberts and Alito, as I recall, and so, you know, I will -- you know, I disagree with Justice Roberts' decision today. I obviously agree with the dissent. But I think you want -- you want to have a judge who follows the law, who doesn't make it up. I think what the dissent pointed out is that this sort of trying to turn the -- you know, rewrite the law in order to say it's OK really wasn't the way to go.

But, hey, the good thing is, is we have a democratic process. Now people are going to be talking about this. And if we want to repeal and replace Obamacare, which there's bipartisan agreement that we should do that, then we need to replace Barack Obama because he will not do it and Mitt Romney has promised on day one he will do that and he will not impose all these tax increases that the president has promised us not only in Obamacare but he has a whole another raft of tax increases.

So we are going to be hit in January with Barack Obama -- if he's still around in January -- with the largest tax increase in history when you combine all of these tax increases that he's promised the American people. And that will crush our economy.

KING: The American people get that choice, Barbara, in 131 days.

Barbara Comstock, appreciate your time tonight.

COMSTOCK: That's why we need a President Mitt Romney.

KING: With us now, Republican strategist, Ari Fleischer. Paul Begala who's advising the top pro-Obama super PAC, political analyst David Gergen and Gloria Borger. Our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and because at the end of the day, this is about your health care and the health care system, 360 M. D. , Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Paul, I want to come to you first and ask you about something you wrote earlier today. You said, "So instead of going on 'ANDERSON COOPER' tonight and thundering about the injustices of the justices, I will be reduced to mewing about the mandate. Better for Americans, to be sure, but tougher on me. Damn that Roberts, he outsmarted me again."

So I want to give you that chance. Have at it. Mew away.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I have to say, this is -- it's astonishing. And when someone as gifted as Barbara Comstock in that long one-sided soliloquy, still can't defend the indefensible, you know there's something big going on in my side. You know what I did today after I wrote that, it was kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing because I like to fulminate and scream and yell, I did something good for the soul.

I went by Arlington National Cemetery. I visited Teddy Kennedy's grave and I said a prayer of thanksgiving. Because what he would be saying now, he'd be thundering, Begala, get your head out of all the baloney and talk about the people. And sometimes hacks like me forget that. There's tens of millions of people with pre-existing conditions, with special needs children, who are going to -- who are -- moms who need mammograms. Grandparents who need to get medical care.

Folks like me who have kids in college who want to keep them on their health care. There are tens of millions people who are going to be benefited about this decision. And people like me tend to forget that sometimes, John.

KING: And Gloria, in all the conversations today, it's no question, the court gave President Obama a policy victory. Some people say did he hand Mitt Romney a political rallying cry? Will this be a national referendum now on whether or not to keep Obamacare?

What's your take?


KING: What -- in the sense of rallying the base. Yes, yes on that question?

BORGER: Yes, yes, and yes. I mean, -- and we just learned that the Romney campaign, since the decision, has raised $2. 7 million. Just like that, John. And it's given Republicans new enthusiasm for Mitt Romney, even though as you know of course and you just asked Barbara Comstock about it, that Mitt Romney was governor of the state of Massachusetts when it passed a mandate.

But what's going to happen in the 2012 election is that we're going to re-litigate health care reform. Republicans believe that what happened in 2010 which worked for them, they took control of the House, is going to work for them again in 2012. Democrats will say, like Paul, now the president is unleashed. He's liberated. He can talk about the benefit that health care reform is going to have for Americans, particularly those who are uninsured. So it's going to sound a lot like 2010 to us, John.

KING: Ari, you remember during the Republican primary, a lot of the conservative challengers said Mitt Romney was the wrong messenger for precisely the reasons we just went through. He had a plan. It had a mandate. The Obama plan was largely modeled on Massachusetts.

Does that complicate -- they think this rallies the base. Now if you're going to defeat Obamacare, you have to defeat the president himself. They think it helps them. But does his own record make it tricky?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It does make it a bit tricky. But here's the thing. Mitt Romney is an imperfect carrier of this message. But given the fact that he's running against President Obama and given the fact he has promised to repeal Obamacare on the first day, he's plenty good enough.

And that's what it comes down to. An Obama/Romney race over the issue that Gloria points out energize voters to come out in huge numbers for Republicans in 2010. So it's not perfect, but he is plenty good enough.

But let me respond to something Paul said earlier because I wish health care was as simple as Paul said where you could just wave the magic wand. Extend the insurance to people who don't have it. Put people who are 26 and under on parent policies. And make it all not cost a lot. It doesn't work that way. The problem with giving health care away free in a subsidized rate so often is it drives up the cost of insurance for everybody else and therefore makes insurance harder to get for everybody else. That's the real problem with Obamacare which now is going to become known as Obama tax care. It's a big substantive problem, too. It doesn't solve the problem. It adds to the costs.

KING: But you say he's an imperfect messenger. Let's listen to one of the clips the Democrats are gloating over today.


KING: Let's listen, Mitt Romney back when he was Massachusetts governor.


ROMNEY: In regards to the mandate, the individual responsibility program, which I proposed, I was very pleased to see that the compromise from the two houses includes the personal responsibility principle. That is essential for bringing health care costs down for everyone and getting everybody the health insurance they deserve and need.


KING: Now the Democrats say it's proof he loves the mandate.

FLEISCHER: Well, Barbara responded to that by saying it's a federalism issue which is a sound issue. But the real point is, elections are about the future. And Mitt Romney has made that pledge that he'd repeal it on the first day. Of course President Obama has to deal with his tax problem now. He promised us it wasn't a tax. Indeed if it was a tax this Congress never would have passed it or the previous Democratic Congress never would have passed it.

Now, it's been sold to us as a penalty. But it is indeed a tax. The president who said he wouldn't raise taxes on anybody who made below $250 thou, now he's threatening to raise taxes on tens of millions who make far, far less than that.

KING: David Gergen, you can see from the reactions of both sides that they think it helps with their base. The White House is trying to raise money. They think -- the president kept his commitment. Now with the help of the court to a signature issue of the Democratic Party. You see the Romney campaign going to the right. Raising a lot of money already.

But what about the middle? It may be a small middle. But how do the centrist swing voters who tend to decide 50/50 elections, do they want this over? Whether they favor the law or not back in 2010? Do they want this fight over? Or do they want to litigate it again?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Excellent question, John. There's no question, there's no doubt that this galvanizes the right. In talking to conservatives who were in state legislatures who got elected by the Tea Party folks, they say, look, this is what's going to bring the Tea Party out. This is the issue that ignited those town halls. So I think it will definitely give a lift on the Republican side. But Mitt Romney cannot win with simply the Tea Party as a -- in that part of the base. He needs to bring in some of those people from the middle. And in talking to a variety of folks today, John, my sense is that there are a number of people in the middle who will have said enough is enough, we've been litigating and talking about this for a long time.

The Supreme Court was going to provide the decisive test. It has come down in favor of the president. Let's give it a shot. And let's get back to the critical issue in this campaign of jobs and economic growth. So it's not clear to me that if Mitt Romney can ride this horse all the way to the White House, he's going to have to find a way to appeal to the middle.

KING: Jeffrey, we're having this conversation on television. No cameras in the court. But you were one of the lucky 500 in the room when the decision came down. Not the ruling most people expected. Including yourself. But take us back into the room. Play out how it happened.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: John, I have been in this building right behind you many times. And I have never heard a silence as profound and tense as the one that took place in the minutes before 10: 00.

The Supreme Court is a prompt institution. In the stroke of 10: 00, they walked in, they dealt with a relatively minor case, and then the chief justice said, I have the opinion in the National Federation of Independent Businesses versus the Department of Health and Human Services.

And Roberts looked different than he usually does. He wasn't as confident, as ebullient, as outgoing seemingly as he usually was. He was almost downcast. And as he began to speak he spoke first about the issue that we had all been talking so much about. The Commerce Clause. Does the Congress have the power under the Commerce Clause, Article 1 of the Constitution, to impose an individual mandate?

And it became clear that he was saying no. Congress doesn't have that power. And that seems like it was it. That the law was going to be invalidated. And then he turned to what had been a relatively minor issue. The taxing power. And you could see, as he was talking and several of us were looking at each other, saying, is he saying what we think he's saying? And at that point, he said this is something that is legitimate, that is tolerable under the taxing power. He was approving the law.

And I saw Antonin Scalia, who was sitting immediately to his right, who is the senior associate justice now, and he looked distraught because he had lost this case. And Anthony Kennedy who we thought was the swing vote, he then later wrote a scathing, angry bitter dissent where he said he would have invalidated the entire law.

So that's how close this was. But the result was quite clear. KING: And Sanjay, you heard Governor Romney a few moments ago say on day one he would act to repeal it. If you go to his Web site, it gives a pretty detailed view of his positions on health care. But what we don't have from him is a sequencing. If on day one you say, I'm going to try to repeal it, and you take whatever executive steps you can. Then you ask the Congress to do things. You've talked to his policy advisers about this. How do they do the sequencing? The governor, I know, he says, you know, he doesn't want to -- he would keep the pre-existing condition thing. Keep some of the other more popular things. But how would they do it?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's funny because I have asked that same question, John. And there's not good answers on that particular issue.

And even with regard to some of the bigger components. I talked to his health care policy adviser, and one of the things he pointed out was that, you know, and this is obviously before the decision, and he said that they -- the governor would keep the nondiscriminatory clauses. Not allowing insurance companies to discriminate based on pre-existing conditions but get rid of the whole mandate.

That's obviously very different than saying he would repeal the whole thing. But a couple of other things that he brought up, again, in no specific order, John, was this idea that people should be allowed to purchase insurance, health care insurance, across state lines, allow more competition and drive down premiums that way was one of the things.

And also instead of disincentives, penalties or taxes, as we are now calling them, for not purchasing health care insurance, he was talking more about incentives for people being healthy. For people doing things that would make them healthy. So, again, I didn't -- I didn't see anything about the sequencing. And I'm not sure this is a radical departure. As it's been described. From what we're talking about now. But those are some of the things that sort of stuck out talking to Tevi Troy, who's the health care policy adviser.

KING: Dr. Gupta, thank you. Ari, Paul, David, Gloria, thanks.

Sanjay and Jeff, stick around.

Want to dig deeper into the actual health care and legal implications of today's decision.

Joining us for that, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

And, as always, let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. You can follow the program on Twitter. That's @AC360. I will also be tweeting @JohnKingCNN.


KING: We said at the top today's Supreme Court decision was a stunner given how poorly most court watchers thought the Solicitor General Donald Verrilli did in arguing the administration's case. Jeffrey Toobin famously predicted disaster. Former Bush attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, though, said he thought the law would be upheld.

I talked to both earlier this evening about that and whether Justice Roberts' opinion today represents the kind of judicial, small- C conservatism and modesty he promised during his confirmation hearing.


KING: Judge Gonzales, let me start with you. You basically called this yesterday saying Judge Roberts would side with some of the liberals on the court. But it didn't come down exactly as you thought. How so?

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, you're right, we ended up where I thought we might be but I was surprised. And I really thought, quite frankly, the chief justice would bring Justice Kennedy with him. And I really felt the court would defer the question of the mandate because they would wait until 2014 or 2015 when someone is actually injured. So -- but obviously that -- it didn't turn out that way.

KING: And, Jeff, as you know, one of the hazards of our business is these video libraries. Everything we say can come back to bite us. I want to take you back to March after oral arguments when you said this.


TOOBIN: This was a train wreck for the Obama administration. This law looks like it's going to be struck down. I'm telling you, all of the predictions, including mine, that the justices would not have a problem with this law, were wrong.


KING: You were one of 500 people in the room when this came down and you knew you were going to eat some crow.

TOOBIN: I sure did.

And, you know, look, our job is accountability for other people and it should be for us, too. I was wrong. I thought that argument went very badly. I was very critical of Donald Verrilli. Donald Verrilli is a hero in the Obama administration. And it's no surprise that the president made his first phone call to Verrilli afterwards. Because -- look, I thought that the argument on the Commerce Clause was really the core of this case. And all of the conservative justices, including Justice -- Chief Justice Roberts, and especially Justice Kennedy, were very skeptical about whether the Commerce Clause was a justification for this law.

They voted against the Commerce Clause. But this taxing power issue really snuck up on us. And it certainly snuck up on me. Looking back at the oral argument now, you can see that Chief Justice Roberts asked a couple of questions about this, but he was obviously very aware of this issue from the beginning. And he saved the president's bacon on this one. No doubt about it.

KING: Judge Gonzales, you were involved in the nomination of John Roberts back in the George W. Bush administration. His 2005 confirmation hearing, he told the Senate this, I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not pitch or bat. Is that what he's done with this decision? Played umpire as oppose to trying to influence the score?

GONZALES: I have a great deal of confidence and faith in John Roberts. You know, obviously, he's only been on the court six or seven years. I think his legacy's yet to be written. And I think we just need to reserve judgment. He's a very bright man. He obviously is aware of his place in history. Obviously aware about the protection, the reputation, of the court.

But I still stand by our initial analysis of John Roberts. You know I think he's a conservative justice and will decide, most cases, in that fashion.

TOOBIN: But...

KING: And Jeff...

TOOBIN: Well, I would just...

KING: I mean, Jeff, Judge Gonzales raised a very important point there. But it's judicial conservatism versus political conservatism. There's a lot of political conservatives are upset. They thought well, he's one of our guys, he was supposed to be automatic. But isn't this in some ways -- can't you make the case, this is a conservative decision?

TOOBIN: Well, it is certainly an issue of judicial restraint. The definition of judicial restraint is deferring to the democratically elected branches of government. And whatever you think of this law, it was passed by the Congress and signed by the president. And they're the ones who answer to the voters.

I think we need to take a deep breath and also remember that John Roberts has also been part of the majority in the Citizens United case. He was part of striking down the civil rights decisions in Louisville. And Seattle. This is still a very conservative justice.

KING: Judge Gonzales, out in the country, people don't think much of any of the institutions of Washington. But the approval rating of the Supreme Court now at the lowest it's ever been. A recent Pew poll found only 52 percent, a bare majority of Americans held a favorable opinion of the court. It's been a big day and a big week for the court. Do you think this will help or hurt the American people's perception of the high court?

GONZALES: I -- you know, I think it depends on what the people think of the decision, quite frankly. But I think from the perspective of the judges, I certain hope this is true. Listen, they're given life tenure for a reason.

Their job is to do their job, is to apply the Constitution, to apply the law, irrespective of whether or not it's popular or not. That's their job. And, hopefully, that will continue to be their job.

KING: Jeff, the way the system is set up, the court, the high court, is supposed to be above the political fray if you will, essentially an apolitical body, even though the appointees come out of the political system.

Bush v. Gore raised a lot of questions about that. A lot of people were talking about Justice Scalia's dissent in the Arizona case the other day as very political. When you have a big decision like this, do you think in terms of, is the court political? Is it above the fray? How would you answer that question on this day?

TOOBIN: I would say it's not above the fray.

Look, these decisions are as much political as they are legal. The idea that there is some sort of clear dividing line between politics and law when you're talking about issues like whether a woman has a rice to choose an abortion, or a university can use race in admissions.

The politics and the law are bound together. Now that is always -- it's hard to untangle. And today this was a decision that one justice behaved unpredictably, but eight of them behaved very predictably. And I think by and large the politics and the law merged together but not 100 percent of the time, which is what makes these cases so interesting. Because you never know when there is going to be an exception like there is today.

KING: Jeffrey Toobin, Judge Alberto Gonzales, gentlemen, thank you.

GONZALES: Thank you.


KING: That was earlier this evening. Now having already shown that doctors and lawyers can indeed get along, let's bring back Jeffrey Toobin and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, after today's decision, we've been talking about the politics and the law, but there are questions now about the practicality. What does this mean for everybody out there as it's implemented over the next few years? Take us through it.

GUPTA: Yes. First of all, as you point out, it's not going to happen tomorrow. This is a process and for good reason. Because there's a lot of moving parts here. Basic -- couple of basic points here. First of all, they're saying that people have to have health care insurance now. If you can afford it you have to buy it. If you can't afford it, you may get either tax credits or you may qualify for Medicaid.

And if you -- and if you don't do those things, then you will face a penalty or a tax, as you've been talking about throughout the show. I want to give you some of these numbers here, because I don't know if people understand some of these numbers.

As far as the -- the penalty or tax goes, in the year 2014, when this is implemented, for an individual, that penalty will be $95 or 1 percent of your income, whichever is greater.

By the year 2016, it would go up to $695, again, for an individual, or 2.5 percent of your income.

So you know, big question, are people going to pay that penalty or are they going to get health care? I mean, they're going -- some people may weigh those two things and see how much each costs and make their decision that way. And that's something to take into account as to why not everyone will still have health-care insurance. Some people may just choose to pay that penalty.

There's also going to be an expansion of Medicaid at that time, as well, at the state level. And it's going to go up to 133 percent of poverty level. So if you look at the numbers now, that means for an individual, they're making less than 14,800 bucks, they're going to qualify for Medicaid. And they say over the next several years, by the year 2019 or so, that's going to be 15 million more people on Medicaid.

So, when you talk about that 30 million more people being insured, that's a little bit of how they get to that number, and, again, it's going to take some time, John.

KING: And as that time plays out, Jeff Toobin, when it comes to health care bill, that building behind us, the Supreme Court, are we done? Is this now back to the political sector or could it come before the course again?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Done, over. This is not coming back. One of the things the justices do is they tend to take one last look at a subject and let the lower courts figure it out at this point.

There are going to be lots and lots of cases about how the Obama- care law is interpreted, what all these provisions mean. But whether it's the law of the land, that's over. It is.

KING: Sanjay and Jeff, thanks so much.

A lot more happening tonight. Firefighters battling Colorado's giant Waldo Canyon fire may get a break in the weather. And not a moment too soon. We'll have a live report from the scene. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: A sharp escalation of violence in Syria. Two explosions shake Damascus. President Bashar al-Assad makes a vow that will only add to the deadly violence. That and more when 360 continues.


KING: The giant Waldo Canyon wildfire out in Colorado has devoured at least 346 homes in Colorado Springs. It's estimated to be 10 percent contained now, and the U.S. Forest Service says it could be mid-July before the massive fire is fully under control. More than 30,000 people have been forced from their homes, and the FBI is investigating reports that an arsonist may have started it all.

President Obama will arrive tomorrow to survey the damage and to meet with firefighters.

Rob Marciano is in Colorado Springs right now for us. Rob, bring us up to date. What's the very latest now on fighting the fires?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, John, we got lucky today. A thin veil of overcast clouds came in and dimmed the sunshine enough to where temperatures were kept much cooler than we thought. Also kept the thunderstorm activity down, so the erratic winds that we've seen the past several days were not there.

So, as you mentioned, firefighters got a bit of a handle on this, with 10 percent containment, but the damage is done: 346 homes burned by this fire. It is the most destructive fire in Colorado history.

Behind me, you can see, across I-25, can't get much access beyond that. The Air Force academy is staging the choppers that are fighting this fire. You see the smoke. You also see the communities that are right up against that smoke and that flame, very still, very close to the fire line.

And this is not the only fire burning. As we've been reporting for weeks, John. There are several large fires still burning across the state of Colorado.

KING: And Rob, it is always a problem across that region this time of year. But it seems that Colorado is burning worse than some of the surrounding states. Why is that?

MARCIANO: Well, you know, we didn't have much snow this winter, John. It's been a hot spring, too. And couple that with the fact we had a ton of snow last year. So that fed the vegetation we had. A ton of vegetation this year. It was dried out earlier than usual. And we had this record searing heat that we've been enduring the past several days. So that's the main reason that Colorado really is feeling it. And we're just getting started, really, into fire season.

KING: And for days, the weather was an impediment to fighting the fire. You say it's a bit of a break today. What's the forecast looking ahead to tomorrow?

MARCIANO: Well, about the same as what we saw today. That would be great. We have seen temperatures well up and over 100 degrees the past several days. We'll take them in the 80s or even the lower 90s. As far as the rest of the country, the heat that accelerated this fire is now moving to the east and it's going to be a record-breaking heat wave for parts of the East Coast. Look at some of these numbers. Well up and over 100 forecast for tomorrow, St. Louis, Nashville, Atlanta, even in D.C., John. You may touch 100 degrees. And that's dangerous heat. Fire or not.

Back to you.

KING: Rob Marciano, live for us out in Colorado. Rob, thank you.

Let's get some other -- get to some other stories we're following tonight. Isha Sesay joins us with a "360 Bulletin."

Hi, there.


Secretary of State Clinton is in Russia in a bid to stop Moscow from providing arms to the Syrian regime. Meantime, in central Damascus, two massive explosions injured at least three people in what state-run TV called an attack on the Justice Ministry. Opposition groups report 140 people, including a number of Syrian troops, were killed across the country today.

Other news, a new emergency text message system will alert people in areas threatened by severe weather. The National Weather Service and FEMA launched the service today, which will broadcast messages to all cell phones within reach of an affected area.

And Snoop Dogg paid a fine of nearly $2,000 in Norway for carrying marijuana through customs at an airport. A police spokeswoman says the rap star was carrying 8 grams of pot. Oh, dear.

Back to you, John.

KING: Pay the fine, pay the fine. Isha, thanks.

Coming up, Democrats express their own contempt by walking out of a House vote to hold the attorney general, Eric Holder, in contempt of Congress. An unprecedented vote, just as new and serious questions are being raised about what the Fast and Furious operation was really all about. The latest, next.


KING: Lying about earning medals when you've never even served in the military. It certainly isn't noble. But is it criminal? The Supreme Court weighs in on that. Details when 360 continues.


KING: For the first time in history, the House of Representatives has voted to hold the attorney general of the United States in contempt of Congress. The vote against Eric Holder came late this afternoon, Holder being held in contempt for refusing to hand over certain documents relating to the investigation of the Fast and Furious weapons operation.

Now, many Democrats refused to participate, walked off the House floor in protest. Shortly after the contempt vote, Holder called it unnecessary and unwarranted.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Today's vote may make for good political theater in the minds of some, but it is, at base, both a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people. They expect and they deserve far more.


KING: Today's vote follows a report that suggests the Fast and Furious may not have been the scandal that we've been led to believe it is. After six months of reporting, "Fortune" magazine's Catherine Eban writes that letting guns in -- letting guns be smuggled into Mexico was never part of the plan.

Republican Congressman John Mica is a member of that House Oversight Committee that led the investigation into Fast and Furious, and he joins me now live.

Congressman, you were here on the program last night with Soledad, taking issue with the "Fortune" magazine article. I want to read you a statement from Paul Pelletier. He's the attorney for Bill Newell, special agent in charge of the Phoenix ATF office back at the time of the Fast and Furious program.

He says, quote, "Bill has given multiple sworn statements to Congress, each of which has been a truthful account of the ATF investigation and each of which is entirely consistent with the reporting in the 'Fortune' article. Bill has consistently maintained that there was never a plan or tactic to walk guns, that ATF agents seized guns when they were lawfully permitted to do so by the U.S. attorney's office and that, to his knowledge, the alleged whistleblowers never raised a concern over so-called gun walking tactics. And any testimony by them to the contrary would be, in his opinion, false."

He's saying the "Fortune" magazine article is in line with what Agent Newell told the Congress. How do you respond?

REP. JOHN MICA (R), FLORIDA: Well, I don't care what he told us in that statement. What we're seeking are all of the documents relating to an incident in which -- and a plan in which we know, first of all, that the Department of Justice lied to us.

They told us they knew nothing about it from February 4, 2011, for some 11 months. And we have documentation that they knew and kept this from us.

And then, furthermore, we have subpoenaed documents and asked patiently for eight months for the rest of the information.

I really don't give a hill of beans what's in any -- any magazine article. My job as a representative of the people, when taxpayers' money has been used to develop a plan and to end up with guns being transported into Mexico, given to drug dealers and murderers, and an agent killed, we need to find out all the facts.

KING: But you say you don't give a hill of beans what's in a magazine article, sir, but what about what the attorney just said? His client worked for the ATF at the time, was the lead agent at the ATF at the time. He says he told Congress things consistent with the magazine article. Do you give a hill of beans about what he told you?

MICA: Well, different people have told us different things. Including, first, lies from the Department of Justice. Then Eric Holder told us a different story. And we have magazine article stories that you may want to quote.

All I'm interested in, as a member of the investigative arm of Congress, is getting all of the documents relating to what took place, holding people accountable. Making certain that, again, the pleas of even the Terry family, who lost their loved one in this botched scheme, cooked up by the Department of Justice, at taxpayers' expense, that people are held accountable. Period.

What can't you understand about that? This is -- and we had many Democrats support us today in our effort. This is a simple right of Congress. We fund that activity of the Department of Justice. We created the Department of Justice. And we have an oversight responsibility.

And to have the attorney general make a comment like that is an insult to this whole process. And I called before for his resignation. And I think he should step down immediately. The shame and disgrace he's brought to that agency.

KING: You are correct when you say the Justice Department initially said it had no knowledge of this. But the attorney general later did acknowledge the existence of so-called gun walking, saying last November, quote, "Any instance of so-called gun walking is unacceptable. Regrettably, this tactic was used as part of Fast and Furious.

According to that article, there was one instance -- one instance -- of gun walking. But it insists only one. Are you willing to give the attorney general the benefit of the doubt that perhaps what happened happened only once and no more?

MICA: Absolutely not. This is why we're doing this. Trying to get the documents that have the evidence of who did what. Who's responsible. This is a fundamental right of the investigative arm of the House of representatives. That's the committee on investigations and oversight. For him to thwart it in this manner is a disgrace to his office. Today, he disgraced the office and forced this vote by not complying. I said on the floor he has been in contempt. He is in contempt. And he has contempt for the people of the United States and the Department of Justice by his actions today.

KING: Congressman Mica, you've suggested several times that you believe the Obama administration may have been using Fast and Furious as an excuse to crack down on the rights of gun owners inside the United States. A lot of people say that's an unfounded conspiracy theory. But you've doubled down in recent days. What is your evidence, sir?

MICA: Well, first, just go back. I mean, the great thing is, you can Google now, or just go on the Internet and search and look at the administration. Their whole theory, their whole plan was that the violence in Mexico was due to weapons, United States weapons, getting into Mexico. That is a completely bogus argument.

I chaired criminal justice and drug policy subcommittee. I know what went on. There's corruption from one end of Mexico to the other. There's drug trafficking. There's murders. There's gangs. And the next thing they'll be asking us to do is ban knives, because now they resort to decapitation of their victims.

KING: But you say that you don't believe their theory. But what -- when have they asked the Congress -- what gun law has the administration sent up to Congress?

MICA: Well, again, I'm talking about the very beginning. And how this tried to come down.

KING: But by you saying they're -- you say they're trying to undermine the gun rights of gun owners in the United States. To undermine or take back gun rights, they would have to introduce legislation, would they not?

MICA: Yes. And what they were trying to do is set the premise.

First, they said that the violence in Mexico was due to guns coming from the United States. Little did we know that they were actually being supplied by the Department of Justice in a scheme that the taxpayers of the United States were funding. And would end up killing our agent, Brian Terry, and hundreds of Mexicans.

So, yes, they laid the groundwork for this. And the whole thing backfired.

But it's pretty sad. This is a very sad day. We didn't want to do this. We asked. We could have stopped this whole proceeding if the attorney general had replied with a request from our lawful subpoenas that were delivered to him.

KING: So, where does it go from now? He's been held in contempt by the House of Representatives, which may be a public embarrassment to him. You heard his defiant statement coming back to you. Where does it go from now? You don't still have these documents. Will there be any effort to work that out?

MICA: Well, there's two things that passed. He was held in contempt on a civil charge. He was held in contempt also on a criminal charge. He interfered and is interfering with a lawful investigation of the investigative committee of Congress.

He, again, is standing in the way of our pursuing what took place in criminal actions. We know there were criminal actions. People were killed, including a federal agent. So we will continue to use every lawful means, every process, due process. He's entitled to due process.

And maybe he is totally innocent. Maybe he has no responsibility or knowledge of what went on. His statements in that regard, though, are conflicting, from denying in the beginning and then telling us, oh, yes, we knew about it, but we had to lie to you. So we will pursue this to the nth degree. And that's our responsibility.

KING: Congressman Mica, appreciate your time tonight, sir.

MICA: Good to be with you. Thank you.

KING: Coming up here, a new move by police as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tries to fight extradition in his alleged sexual assault case. The latest on that next.


SESAY: I'm Isha Sesay with a "360 Bulletin" and "360 Follow."

The Supreme Court has struck down a federal law that makes it a crime to lie about earning military medals. The ruling is a victory for a former public official in California, Xavier Alvarez, who was prosecuted by the Justice Department for lying about earning the Medal of Honor. The justices called the so-called stolen valor law and said it violates free speech protection.

Another "360 Follow." Toxicology results showed the man who chewed off another man's face in an attack in Miami did not have the drug known as bath salts in his system, as police had suspected. Tests on Rudy Eugene showed marijuana but no other drugs or alcohol. Eugene was killed by police during the attack.

British police have demanded that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appear at the police station in connection with his extradition. Assange is seeking asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He's wanted for questioning in Sweden on allegations of rape and sexual assault.

JPMorgan's stock price is down following a "New York Times" report that losses blamed on a trader known as the London whale could reach $9 billion. That loss would be far greater than the $2 billion announced by CEO Jamie Dimon last month.

And it's being called the world's most expensive bottle of wine. One of these limited edition glass capsule bottles from Australian wine maker Penfolds costs -- get this -- $168,000. If you buy one, someone from the company comes to personally open it for you.

We'll be right back.


KING: We'll have your favorite "RidicuList" of the year tomorrow. We ran out of time for No. 2 tonight.

That does it for this edition of 360. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.