In a pointed speech on Sunday, President Obama took aim at his successor in the White House — and at congressional Republicans who are pushing to repeal his signature health care law.
Speaking at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston as he accepted the annual Profile in Courage Award, Obama noted that in 2010, several lawmakers lost their congressional seats after voting for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These men and women, he said, “did the right thing. Theirs was a profile in courage.”
Obama then told the crowd, “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 — those who often have no access to the corridors of power.”
The speech came just three days after House Republicans narrowly voted to repeal ACA on a 217-213 vote. The measure passed without any support from Democrats and in spite of a handful of "No" votes from mostly moderate Republicans. It faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where Republicans hold just a four-seat majority.
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Obama warned lawmakers, “I hope they understand that courage means not simply doing what’s politically expedient, but doing what, deep in our hearts, we know is right.”
Recalling the early fights in Congress for ACA at the beginning of his presidency, Obama on Sunday also took a jab at President Trump’s comment to governors last February, when Trump told them, "Nobody knew health care could be so complicated."
Obama got a laugh on Sunday, telling the crowd, “There was a reason why healthcare reform had not been accomplished before: it was hard.”
He also indirectly criticized Trump’s efforts to deport millions of illegal immigrants and ban travelers from Muslim-majority countries, warning Americans against “falling into the refuge of tribe and clan and anger at those who don’t look at us, or have the same surnames, or pray the way we do.”
He added, “At such moments, courage is necessary. At such moments we need courage to stand up to hate — not just in others but in ourselves. At such moments we need the courage to stand up to dogma — not just in others but in ourselves.”
Obama also warned against cynicism about our political system, saying: “Justice and freedom and equality and kindness and generosity — it doesn’t happen on its own … We are constantly having to make a choice because progress is fragile.”
One reason Obama received the award, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation noted, was for expanding health security to millions of Americans. Obama joins Republican presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
The award is named for a 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by JFK that profiled eight U.S. senators who risked their careers by taking principled though unpopular positions. May 29 would have been his 100th birthday.
Obama, 55, thanked Kennedy for leading “with a steady hand” during the Cold War in general and the Cuban Missile Crisis specifically — and for showing his generation that “politics could be a noble and worthwhile pursuit.” He noted that the example of JFK and his brother Robert F. Kennedy “helped guide me into politics.” Their younger brother, longtime Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, “helped make me a better public servant once I arrived in Washington,” Obama said.
At Sunday’s ceremony, Jack Schlossberg, JFK's grandson, introduced Obama, saying, "Without President Obama, I might still be sitting on my couch eating Doritos and watching sports."
The former president also thanked former first lady Michelle Obama “for, after the presidency, sticking with me, because I think she felt an obligation to the country to stay on. But once her official duties were over, it wasn’t clear.”