Former President Barack Obama returned to the spotlight to accept the annual John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award at JFK’s presidential library in Boston. The award is named for a 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Kennedy that profiled eight U.S. senators who risked their careers by taking principled though unpopular positions.
In one of his first speeches since leaving the White House, Barack Obama built a case against President Trump’s efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, telling the Boston audience Sunday night that Congress has a duty to all Americans, not just the rich. Making his feelings known about the state of health care and the fate of uninsured Americans, Obama implored members of Congress to demonstrate political courage even if it goes against their party’s positions.
“I hope that current members of Congress recall that it actually doesn’t take a lot of courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential — but it does require some courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm,” Obama said at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, accepting the annual Profile in Courage Award on Sunday night.
Barack Obama spoke Sunday after receiving the John F. Kennedy Presidential Profile in Courage Award during a ceremony at the Kennedy presidential library.
In his 30-minute speech after accepting the award, Obama steered clear of partisan attacks seemingly avoiding the name of his successor President Donald Trump, who has often criticized the previous administration, and has been adamant about reversing many of Obama’s initiatives.
Obama challenged lawmakers to put conscience ahead of party loyalty. He was responding to an all-Republican House vote last week to repeal the Affordable Care Act, his signature legislative accomplishment. The former president spoke about members of Congress who voted to pass the ACA during his presidency, only to lose their seat in later elections. “They had a chance to insure millions,” he said. “But this vote could also cost them their seats, perhaps end their political careers.”
Obama did not specifically mention Thursday’s House vote to dismantle the health care law, however, declared that while it did not take courage to help the rich and powerful, it does require courage to help the sick and vulnerable. Appealing to wavering Republicans, Obama said,
“It is my fervent hope and the hope of millions, such courage is still possible, that today’s members of Congress regardless of party are willing to look at the facts and speak the truth, even when it contradicts party positions.”
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, one of the few Republicans to attend the dinner, told reporters the Senate would write its own version of the legislation and he did not expect the House bill to survive intact. Democrats argue that the bill would undermine poor people’s health care while cutting taxes for the rich. The bill’s supporters argue it would help reduce health costs for many people.
The former president focused much of his address on the legacy of President Kennedy, as the library prepared to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth later this month. Obama spoke of the Kennedys history of advocating for health care reform, particularly, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, who died of brain cancer before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
While the former president steered clear of U.S. affairs after leaving office, he participated in the French political debate last week by posting a message of endorsement for centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, who defeated his far right rival Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s election. Obama travels to Italy on Monday. He will give a keynote speech on climate change and food security at Tuesday’s Seeds and Chips Global Food Innovation Summit in Milan.