Former US president Barack Obama speaks to guests after receiving the 2017 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on May 7, 2017 at the JFK Library in Boston, Massachusetts. / AFP PHOTO / Ryan McBride
Former US president Barack Obama urged lawmakers to follow their conscience and protect vulnerable Americans, as a Republican-backed bill that tore up his namesake health care reform law heads to the Senate.
Obama, speaking in Boston where on Sunday night he received a Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, said: “Courage means not simply doing what is politically expedient, but doing what they believe deep in their hearts is right.”
“It is my fervent hope… 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.
“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,” he said.
Republicans in the House of Representatives narrowly pushed through a bill last week that repeals the divisive Obamacare reforms: a major campaign pledge by members of the party and current President Donald Trump.
Republicans blame Obamacare for sending insurance premiums soaring while reducing options for millions.
Democrats counter that the law helped 20 million Americans gain health coverage and saved thousands of lives by barring insurers from denying policies to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Opponents of the latest bill warn that it will expose millions of vulnerable Americans, and a bitter fight over the details is sure to come in the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim majority.
Obama did not mention Trump by name during his speech, but noted that politics “remains filled with division and discord and everywhere we see the risk of falling into the refuge of tribe and clan and anger at those who don’t look like us or have the same surnames or pray the way we do.”
“And at such moments, courage is necessary. At such moments, we need courage to stand up to hate, not just in others but in ourselves,” he said.
The VIP crowd at the award ceremony included elected officials, Obama’s vice president Joe Biden and secretary of state John Kerry, as well as Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
Also in attendance was Robert Kraft, the owner of the NFL’s New England Patriots, who is a friend of Trump.