Note: This post has been updated with a response from Dan Sytman, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.
Outgoing Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, who joined a lawsuit against President Obama’s healthcare overhaul, appeared to show support for the law during Gov. Chris Gregoire’s farewell speech Tuesday.
McKenna’s gesture was small — he stood up, along with a group of mostly Democrats, to applaud a reference to the law, while most GOP members stayed seated.
Dan Sytman, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said later that McKenna’s applause “was not a statement of one kind or another.”
But the move did not go unnoticed by reporters and others eager for intrigue in a mostly uneventful State of the State address.
The gesture came after Gregoire noted that Washington was “among the first in the nation to implement the Affordable Care Act” and then asked lawmakers to “embrace this historic opportunity to give every Washingtonian the health-care coverage they deserve” — a reference to the optional Medicaid expansion included in Obamacare — because “every Washingtonian deserves an open door to the doctor when they need one.”
The Legislature is currently deciding whether to accept the Medicaid expansion, which the federal government has promised to pay for in its first years but may cost the state in the future. Democrats generally support the idea while many Republicans say it may be too costly.
During an unsuccessful run for governor last year, McKenna did not say whether or not he supports the expansion.
He framed his decision to join the lawsuit brought by other attorneys general as related to a provision of the law that requires all citizens to buy health insurance. But the suit would have overturned the entire law.
At another notable moment Tuesday, McKenna sat silently with other Republicans as Democrats stood to cheer a reference from Gregoire about the state’s recent legalization of same-sex marriage.
Before Gregoire spoke, McKenna was one of three departing state officials to give farewell talks of their own.
“It has been an extraordinary journey,” McKenna said in the short speech. “Thank you all very much.”