Former President Barack Obama made his first public comments about the ongoing debate over his signature health care plan. He implored members of Congress on Sunday 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.
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 Thursday’s 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 … 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.
Among the guests who made their way down the red carpet into the library for the event were representatives of the Kennedy family, members of Congress, former Obama staffers and celebrities including former late-night talk show host David Letterman. Former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State John Kerry also were in attendance.
“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, Kennedy’s grandson, presented the award.
Schlossberg, 24, plans to attend Harvard Law School, said Obama inspired him the way an earlier generation was inspired by his grandfather.
“Without Barack Obama, I might still be sitting on my couch, eating Doritos and watching sports,” he said.
Obama was not the first former U.S. president to receive the Profile in Courage award. Previous recipients include Republicans Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
On Monday, Obama travels to Italy to give a keynote address on climate change and food security at Tuesday’s Seeds and Chips Global Food Innovation Summit in Milan.