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Barack Obama just stepped off the sidelines to defend Obamacare

Barack Obama Receives Kennedy Profile In Courage Award Photo by CJ Gunther-Pool/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama urged Congress not to repeal the Affordable Care Act in a speech on Sunday night, calling for Republicans to have the “courage” not to throw millions of poor and sick Americans off their health insurance.

“I hope that current members of Congress recognize it actually takes little courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential. But it takes great courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm — those who have no access to the corridors of power,” Obama said at the John F. Kennedy Library, where he was awarded the Profiles in Courage award.

Obama’s comments mark the first time that the ex-president has personally addressed a new piece of legislation since leaving office. (In January, his spokesperson issued a statement criticizing President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.) And they represent a break from Obama’s determination to stay on the sidelines of American politics and instead adhere to the post-presidential tradition of not criticizing your successor.

But even as he made the call for congressional Republicans to reject their central legislative push, Obama continued to hammer away at the importance of bipartisan communication and civic engagement for all citizens — a central theme of his post-presidency, according to six close current and former aides to the president I interviewed in March.

Obama began by identifying the courage necessary to stick up to one’s own side. “It is my fervent hope and the hope of millions that, regardless of party, 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,” he said.

Throughout his post-presidency, Obama has been torn between the ideal of avoiding entanglement in messy politics and the reality of wanting to defend his inescapably political legacy. In accepting the award Sunday, he again tried to implore both sides of the aisle to find the courage to rise above party politics — even while delivering a message that could only possibly be intended for one of them.

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