Former President Barack Obama, in his first public comments about the ongoing debate over his signature health care plan, recently implored members of Congress to demonstrate political courage even if it goes against their party’s positions.
Obama briefly returned to the spotlight as he accepted 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 his approximately 30-minute speech after accepting the award, Obama steered clear of partisan attacks and never mentioned his successor, President Donald Trump, who has often criticized the previous administration and has worked to undo many of Obama’s initiatives, including the Affordable Care Act.
The former president recalled 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 made no direct reference to the recent House vote to dismantle much of the health care law, but noted that the debate over the issue was continuing. The House bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, which is expected to write its own version of the legislation.
“It is my fervent hope and the hope of millions [that] 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,” Obama said.
The former president focused much of his address on the legacy of the late President Kennedy, as the library prepared to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth later this month. Obama noted the Kennedys had long advocated for health care reform, and in particular, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a Massachusetts Democrat, said Obama earned the award by meeting many challenges that faced him during his presidency.
“It’s about understanding the challenges we face as a country and as a planet and mustering the political will to do what is right even if what is right at that moment isn’t necessarily popular,” said Kennedy, a harsh critic of the GOP health overhaul plan.
Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s daughter who served as ambassador to Japan, and Jack Schlossberg, JFK’s grandson, presented the award.
Obama was not the first former U.S. president to receive the Profile in Courage award. Previous recipients include Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.