BOSTON (AP/CBS) — Former President Barack Obama returned to the spotlight Sunday to accept an award for political courage from the John F. Kennedy family, days after House Republicans won passage of a bill dismantling much of Obama’s signature health insurance law.
The Democrat has made few public appearances since leaving office in January, and has avoided mention of his Republican successor in the White House, even as President Donald Trump has criticized the previous administration numerous times while moving to undo many of Obama’s initiatives.Obama received the Profile in Courage Award during a dinner at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. The annual 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.
Obama received the Profile in Courage Award during a dinner at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. The annual 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.
“President Kennedy called on a new generation of Americans to give their talents to the service of the country,” said Caroline Kennedy, the late president’s daughter, in announcing the award in March. “With exceptional dignity and courage, President Obama has carried that torch into our time, providing young people of all backgrounds with an example they can emulate in their own lives.”
The JFK Library Foundation lauded Obama for expanding health security to millions of Americans, which opponents of the bill passed by the House on Thursday argue could be lost if it becomes law. The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
In his approximately 30-minute speech after accepting the award, 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.”
“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.
The former president focused much of his address on the legacy of President Kennedy, as the library prepared to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth later this month. Obama noted the Kennedys had long advocated for health care reform, and in particular, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
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.
U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a Massachusetts Democrat, said Obama earned the award by meeting many challenges that faced him during his presidency.
“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.
He also said, “Over the course of his tenure in office, how he conducted himself and how he led our nation exemplified the values of the award.”
Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s daughter who served as Ambassador to Japan, and Jack Schlossberg, Kennedy’s grandson, presented the award.
Schlossberg, 24, and planning 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.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)