NPR

Obama Calls On Congress To Have 'Courage' On Health Care

Receiving the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his own work on health care, the former president said, "It actually doesn't take a lot of courage to aid those who are already powerful."
Former President Barack Obama speaks after receiving the 2017 John F. Kennedy Profile In Courage Award at the John F. Kennedy library on Sunday in Boston. Source: Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama urged Republicans to be guided by a personal standard of ethics and integrity, not political avarice, as they forge ahead with plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act — his signature legislation.

Obama had refrained from weighing in on the bitter health care battle, but he broke his silence while accepting the Profile in Courage Award at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston on Sunday night.

"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," Obama said.

He also had these words of caution for members of the Senate, who will be taking up the repeal-and-replace plan next: "I hope they understand that courage means not simply doing what is simply politically expedient, but doing what [people] believe in their hearts is right."

Obama never mentioned President Trump by name, but he did say that despite valiant efforts by many leaders who had come before him, health care overhaul had failed because "it was hard," adding that it is "easily subject to misinformation and fearmongering."

He commended the members of Congress who voted to push through the Affordable Care Act, which came to be known as Obamacare, in 2009 and 2010, saying they did so at great political peril to their own careers. Several lawmakers lost their seats in the following midterm elections.

"These men and women did the right thing. They did the hard thing. Theirs was a profile in courage," Obama said.

Further reflecting on his first term, Obama recalled the brief period when Democrats and Republicans worked together to stave off a series of national crises. Amid the financial chaos that followed his inauguration, Obama said, the two sides enacted laws that kept the economy from free fall and saved the auto industry.

In addition to the words of advice he doled out to elected officials, Obama also shared words of encouragement with the electorate at large. (After all, he's one of them now.)

"Everywhere we see the risk of falling into the refuge of tribe and clan and anger at those who don't look like us," he said, adding, "At such moments, we need courage to stand up to hate."

The Kennedy library bestowed the award upon Obama for securing health coverage for millions of Americans, a cause that was long championed by Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who died in 2009. Caroline Kennedy, the senator's niece and daughter

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR6 min read
A Pop Cyborg With A Human Heart
As the voice of Chairlift, Caroline Polachek crisscrossed indie and mainstream tastes. Her solo LP adds digital flex to that voice, melding real and "enhanced" performance into one penetrating force.
NPR3 min read
Mattis Takes Swipe At Trump: 'I Earned My Spurs On The Battlefield'
In a speech blending humor with a serious message, the former secretary of defense also quoted a warning by Lincoln against a leader "unfettered by conscience, precedent or decency."
NPR2 min read
Summer Walker: Tiny Desk Concert
One week after releasing a record-shattering studio debut, the Atlanta native brings a glowing R&B set to the Tiny Desk.