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Anti-Affordable Care Act protesters in 2012. Photo: Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images

A federal appeals court seemed likely on Tuesday to strike down what remains of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, but sent more mixed signals about its willingness to throw out the rest of the health care law along with it.

Why it matters: If a ruling striking down ACA comes to pass — like the one a lower court handed down last year — it would throw some 20 million people off their coverage, create ripple effects through almost every facet of the health care system and ignite an enormous political firestorm.

The case that the mandate itself is constitutional didn’t get much traction Tuesday before a panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. But the panel’s two Republican appointees wrestled with how to approach the rest of the law — whether to throw it all out, or to send the question back to a lower court.

How it works: The Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to have health insurance and pay a tax penalty if they don't.

  • In 2012, the Supreme Court said the mandate alone would exceed Congress' power, but that the penalty for being uninsured is OK.
  • The 2017 tax law zeroed out the penalty for being uninsured — the part the Supreme Court upheld. But the mandate to buy insurance is still on the books.
  • The Trump administration say that means the mandate has effectively become unconstitutional since the court upheld it. And, they argue, the courts should throw out the entire law as a result.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

Texas abortion law remains in effect after appeals court ruling

Pro- and anti-abortion protesters outside the Supreme Court as arguments begin about the Texas abortion law on Capitol Hill in November. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A U.S. appeals court transferred a challenge to Texas' law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy to the state supreme court in a 2-1 vote on Monday evening.

Why it matters: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision means the country's most restrictive abortion law can remain in place for the time being.

4 hours ago - World

At least 2 dead after Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami

A satellite image of the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday. Photo: UNICEF/NOAA

At least two people are confirmed to have died in Tonga following the undersea volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves toward the island nation and across the Pacific over the weekend, officials said Monday.

The big picture: Officials reported major damage along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, where the capital, Nuku'alofa, was covered in ash and dust, including on the runway of the airport. A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Axios over the phone that two people had been confirmed to have died in the disaster.