Former president avoids mentioning Donald Trump as he implores Republicans to ‘speak the truth’ even against their own party
By Sarah Betancourt, The Guardian
Former President Obama receives ‘Profiles in Courage Award’ from Caroline Kennedy
For the first time since leaving office, Barack Obama addressed his landmark healthcare legislation in a speech, reminding supporters of the courage and integrity of junior congressmen that it took to pass the bill.
Speaking at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston on Sunday night, where he was given the Profiles of Courage award, he said: “Because of that vote, 20 million people got healthcare who didn’t have it before.
“And most of [the congressmen who voted for it] did lose their seats. But they were true to what President Kennedy defined in his book – desire to maintain the integrity that is stronger than the desire to maintain office – the faith that the right course will be vindicated. Personal sacrifice.”
“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.”
Obama spoke of what is at stake for the millions of Americans who stand to lose coverage if a repeal passes, without naming Donald Trump specifically.
And he implored members of Congress to demonstrate political courage even if it goes against their party’s positions.
The former president focused much of his address on the legacy of Kennedy, as the library prepared to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth later this month. Obama noted the Kennedys had long advocated for healthcare reform, and in particular the late Senator Edward Kennedy, who died of brain cancer before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Obama’s comments come a few days after the House squeaked through a partial repeal and replacement of Obamacare with a 217-213 vote, a long-promised goal of Republicans who have decried the bill since its passing.
The former president was awarded the award by JFK’s daughter Caroline Kennedy, a former ambassador to Japan, and her son Jack Schlossberg.
Schlossberg, 24, introduced Obama to the crowd of 700 people in a rare public speech. He said: “My life changed in 2008 because a young candidate was fired up and ready to go, and he told me, ‘Yes we can.’ Without Barack Obama, I might still be sitting on my couch, eating Doritos and watching baseball games.” He cited Obama’s policy choices on healthcare reform, nuclear disarmament and gun control as the reasons for why he deserves the award.
The John F Kennedy Library Foundation, a nonprofit organization, created the Profile in Courage award in 1989 to honor President Kennedy’s commitment to public service. The award is named for Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of US senators he believed risked their careers by taking principled stands for unpopular positions. This year’s event marks the 100th anniversary of Kennedy’s birth, on 29 May 1917.
Previous recipients include former presidents Gerald Ford and George HW Bush, US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and US Senator John McCain.