WASHINGTON — In his first major post-presidential public speech, former President Barack Obama on Sunday urged congressional Republicans to have the “political courage” to defy their leaders and resist dismantling his signature health care bill.
Obama was at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston following the House Republicans on Thursday repealing key elements of Obamacare, his signature domestic policy legacy achievement.
Senate Republicans are writing their own version to overhaul Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
The speech was Obama’s most direct challenge to the Trump presidency to date, though he never used President Donald Trump’s name.
He was at the JFK center to receive the annual John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, named after Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book about members of Congress who demonstrated “Profiles in Courage” to do, even under pressure, what was right.
Obama’s JFK speech was announced weeks ago, before the House vote was scheduled. Obama used the occasion to reflect on how, when it comes to the federal government role in providing health insurance, “as everyone here now knows, this great debate is not settled, it continues.
“And it is my fervent hope, and the hope of millions, that regardless of party, 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.
“I hope that current Members of Congress recall that it actually doesn’t takes little courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential — but it require some courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm. . . . I hope they understand that courage means not simply doing what is politically expedient, but doing what they believe, deep in their hearts, is right.”
Democrats have been eager for Obama to take on a more activist role when it comes to challenging Trump and congressional Republicans who control the House and Senate.
Obama’s former ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy and her son, Jack Schlossberg, presented the award. Caroline Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama during his highly contested 2008 primary against Hillary Clinton, anointing him as the inheritor of the Kennedy flame, helped him clinch the Democratic nomination.
The Sunday ceremonies were part of events marking the centennial of JFK’s birth on May 29, 1917. Caroline Kennedy is the president of the JFK library foundation. Among those in the audience: retired comic David Letterman and former Vice President Joe Biden.
With this speech, Obama showed that he is not going to be a quiet bystander as Trump takes steps to erase Obama’s gains when it comes to climate, inequality – and health insurance coverage.
“Courage, President Kennedy knew, requires something more than just the absence of fear. Any fool can be fearless. Courage — true courage — derives from that sense of who we are, what are our best selves, what are our most important commitments. . . . (to) dig deep and do hard things for the enduring benefit of others,” Obama said.
After Obama pushed through his Affordable Care Act in 2010 only on the strength of Democratic votes, Democrats suffered massive mid-term defeats as the anti-Obama Tea Party movement became a political power.
On Thursday, House GOP leaders passed on the narrowest of margins a measure to recast how Americans get health insurance coverage — with only GOP votes.
Obama noted the Democrats who went on to be defeated after voting for Obamacare.
“And these men and women did the right thing. They did the hard thing. Theirs was a profile in courage. Because of that vote, 20 million people got health insurance who didn’t have it before.
“And most of them — and most of them did lose their seats, but they were true to what President Kennedy defined in his book as a congressional profile in courage: the desire to maintain a reputation for integrity that is stronger than the desire to maintain office.”
Republicans in Congress tried scores of times to repeal Obamacare when Obama was in office but could not since he would simply wield his veto pen.
Obama was in Chicago twice in recent weeks for public appearances: one talking to students at the University of Chicago, and the other last Wednesday, when he unveiled at the South Shore Cultural Center a model of his Obama Center — his museum, library and event campus to be built in Jackson Park.