As he has throughout his three months out of office, he also avoided any hint of criticism of Trump’s sometimes chaotic debut.
Obama, accepting a “Profile in Courage” award from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, offered only a glancing reference to Thursday’s repeal vote and the efforts by Trump to unwind his legacy.
The former president told an audience of supporters that when it came to health care in America, “the great debate is not settled, but continues.” He said he hoped that members of Congress, “regardless of party, are willing to look at facts and speak the truth, even when it contradicts party positions.”
Obama defended the 2010 health measure, his signature domestic achievement, as the right thing to do, and he praised Democratic members of Congress for voting to pass it despite the risks to their political future.
“It takes little courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential,” Obama said, “but it takes great courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm.”
On Thursday, Trump celebrated with House members who had voted to repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act, declaring, “Welcome to the beginning of the end of Obamacare.” But Obama did not mention Trump during his speech on Sunday, and he did not directly address the attempts to unravel the Affordable Care Act. As he has throughout his three months out of office, he also avoided any hint of criticism of Trump’s sometimes chaotic debut.
To weigh in, Obama believes, would be a violation of his duty as a past president to let his successor operate without hindrance from him. That determination has frustrated some of Obama’s longtime supporters, who are eager to see him challenge Trump’s policies.
Instead, Obama used his address to speak broadly about the need for politicians and citizens to be courageous.
He said that Americans were living in a time of “great opportunity, but also great uncertainty and inequality,” made more difficult because of the political discord in Washington and the anger among citizens throughout the country.
“At such moments, courage is necessary,” Obama said. “We need courage to stand up to hate, not just in others, but in ourselves. At such moments, we need the courage to stand up to dogma, not just in others, but in ourselves.”
The award, which recognized Obama’s accomplishments during his eight years in the White House, is meant to evoke the spirit of Kennedy’s 1957 book, “Profiles in Courage.” In that work, Kennedy told the stories of eight senators who took unpopular positions despite the risk to their political careers.
“The Kennedys symbolized a set of values,” Obama said to the audience, which included Caroline Kennedy, the former president’s daughter, and Jack Schlossberg, her son. Obama said the Kennedy family epitomized “the idea that politics in fact could be a noble and worthwhile pursuit.”
A statement on the library’s website called Obama “a moral leader, offering hope and healing to the country,” and described him as a president who “consistently reflected in so many ways, big and small, the definition of courage that John F. Kennedy cited in the opening lines of ‘ Profiles in Courage’: ‘grace under pressure.'”
Kennedy’s family created the award in 1989 to honor him. Past recipients have included Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. and a civil rights leader.
Obama’s remarks were his second in public in the past two weeks, after months of post-presidential vacationing. He has been criticized for agreeing to deliver private, paid remarks; he reportedly earned $400,000 for a discussion with Doris Kearns Goodwin, a historian. He is also set to receive $400,000 for a speech at a Wall Street health care conference in September.
A spokesman for Obama said in a statement issued late Sunday that the former president would travel to Milan on May 8 and 9 to visit former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, participate in a dinner hosted by the Institute for International Political Studies, and give a speech at a global food conference.