Former President Barack Obama on Sunday night called on members of Congress show “political courage” and defend the work his administration did to extend health care coverage to 20 millions Americans.
The former president was speaking in Boston after receiving the Profile in Courage Award, presented on the 100th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s birth, and his remarks marked a rare foray into the day-to-day political scrum. In the course of a 45-minute speech, his second since he left office, Obama praised the courage of single mothers who sacrifice for their children and soldiers who put their lives on the line for strangers.
But he focused largely on the health-care debate that is roiling the nation following the passage in the House of the Affordable Health Care Act on Thursday. The move is one step in the process of repealing Obama’s landmark health-care law.
Obama praised the courage of freshman lawmakers who voted for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, knowing that it might put their seats and political careers at risk. “These men and women did the right thing,” Obama said. “They did the hard thing … and most of them did lose their seats.”
As the legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act moves to the Senate, Obama called on Republican and Democratic lawmakers to demonstrate similar courage to ensure that vulnerable Americans do not lose access to care.
“This great debate is not settled but continues, and it is my fervent hope – and the hope of millions – that regardless of party, such courage is still possible,” Obama said. He did not explicitly call on senators to defend Obamacare, but rather he exhorted them to stand up for those who are most vulnerable.
“I hope that current members of Congress recognize that it takes little courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential,” he said. “But it takes great courage to champion the vulnerable, the sick and the infirm” and those with “with no access to the corridors of power.”
Obama’s speech marked the second time that he has weighed in on politics since leaving office. He was still on vacation in January when he issued a statement urging Americans to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries — as well as refugees from across the world — from entering the United States.
Obama also went out of his way to praise the courage of immigrants and “dreamers,” who came to the country illegally as children, and those who continue to protest injustices in the criminal justice system. As he frequently did as president, he singled out the bravery of soldiers, police officers and first responders.
His remarks about immigrants drew applause from the largely liberal crowd. Despite the deep partisan divisions in the country and its often toxic politics, Obama said that the problems Kennedy confronted as president were far more “perilous.”
Kennedy faced the prospect of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, deep and widespread poverty, and the battle over segregation. And he called on Americans to continue the country’s tradition of “jagged, sometimes tentative but always forward progress.”