Former U.S. President Barack Obama said Sunday it is his "fervent hope" that members of Congress are willing to "look at the facts and speak the truth, even when it contradicts party positions."
Obama's comments came as he accepted the John F. Kennedy Foundation's "Profile in Courage" Award in Boston, and days after the House of Representatives approved a bill that would replace his signature health care program.
Obama did not mention his successor, President Donald Trump, or make any direct reference to Trump's push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act beyond noting the "great debate is not settled."
But Obama did cite Democratic lawmakers who were new to Congress when they voted for the ACA in 2010 and subsequently became targets for Republicans to challenge their re-election. He said that group "did the right thing" and acted with courage.
"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, those who often have no access to the corridors of power," Obama said. "I hope they understand that courage means not simply doing what is politically expedient but what they believe deep in their hearts is right."
The award is named after a book written by Kennedy, who served as U.S. president in the early 1960s, profiling eight U.S. senators who risked their careers by taking principled, but unpopular stands.
Previous winners include two former presidents, George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, as well as former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko.
Speaking more generally about politics in the United States, Obama said one thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on is that now is a time of "great cynicism about our institutions."
"It’s a cynicism that’s more corrosive when it comes to our system of self-government, that clouds our history of jagged, sometimes tentative, but ultimately forward progress, that impedes our children’s ability to see in the noisy and often too trivial pursuits of politics the possibility of our democracy doing big things.”
Obama also said the political divide that exists brings the risk of people retreating into being angry at those who do not look like them, have the same kinds of names or the same religion.
At such moments 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," Obama said. "At such moments we need courage to believe that together we can tackle big challenges like inequality and climate change. At such moments it’s necessary for us to show courage in challenging the status quo and in fighting the good fight, but also show the courage to listen to one another and seek common ground and embrace principled compromise."
The former president has kept a low profile since leaving office in January. He is visiting Milan, Italy Monday and Tuesday to meet with former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and to give an address at a summit on the impact of technology on climate change and food security.