(WASHINGTON) — For the first time since leaving office, former President Barack Obama returned to the White House on Tuesday to join his former vice president — Joe Biden — in promoting the Affordable Health Care Act he signed into law 12 years ago.
Obama joined President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to deliver remarks on the Affordable Care Act, with Harris speaking first to applaud the anniversary and introduce the former president. Obama received a standing ovation and told a packed East Room, “It is good to be back at the White House.”
Before addressing the landmark legislation of his presidency, Obama cracked a few jokes, as he often did as president, opening his remarks by thanking “Vice President Biden.”
“That was a joke. That was all set up,” Obama said to laughter, walking back to give Biden a hug.
“I confess, I heard some changes have been made by the current president since I was last here,” Obama continued. “Apparently, Secret Service agents have to wear Aviator glasses now. The Navy mess has been replaced by a Baskin-Robbins. And there’s a cat running around, which I guarantee Beau and Sunny would have been very unhappy about,” he said to laughter, referring to the Obamas’ dogs.
Obama then pivoted to the purpose of his visit: to celebrate 12 years of the Affordable Care Act, saying it’s “an example of why you run for office in the first place.”
“We’re not supposed to do this just to occupy a seat or to hang on to power. We’re supposed to do this because it’s making a difference in the lives of the people who sent us here,” Obama said, before introducing Biden.
“My name is Joe Biden, and I’m Barack Obama’s vice president,” Biden joked, prompting more laughter in the room. “It feels like the good old days — being here with you brings back so many good memories.”
“Let’s be honest, the Affordable Care Act has been called a lot of things, but Obamacare is the most fitting,” Biden added with pride. “Obamacare.”
He went on to announce new steps the Biden administration is taking to build on the Affordable Care Act, including a new executive order he’ll sign Tuesday and a proposed rule from the Treasury Department to fix the ACA’s so-called “family glitch.”
“Once today’s proposed rule is finalized, starting next year, working families in America will get the help they need to afford full family coverage,” Biden said. “With this change, it’s estimated that 200,000 presently uninsured Americans are going to gain coverage. Nearly one million Americans will see their coverage become more affordable.”
Previewing Tuesday’s remarks, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Obama and Biden would also have lunch at the White House Tuesday — “as they used to do on a weekly basis” — and added, “They continue to talk regularly.”
“They are real friends, not just Washington friends, and so I’m sure they will talk about events in the world as well as their families and personal lives,” Psaki said.
The visit from the popular former president comes as Biden struggles in the polls over his handling of 40-year-high inflation and soaring gas prices he’s pinned to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Psaki said it’s “exactly the right time to have the former president come here — given this is one of the proudest accomplishments that they worked on together, they shared together.”
“And it is emblematic of their shared view and belief that government can work for people and it can work for the American people. And this is an example of building on a success from more than 10 years ago and making it better over time,” she added.
Psaki also said to expect Obama to return to the White House again soon for his presidential portrait unveiling “and perhaps other engagements here in the future,” she said.
Since Biden took office, the administration helped to lower health care premiums for 9 million Americans through the American Rescue Plan, Psaki noted Monday, “the biggest expansion of affordable health care since the ACA.”
“We’ve made affordable health coverage more accessible during the pandemic through the opening of the special enrollment period, which enabled nearly 3 million Americans to have access to newly sign up for coverage under the ACA,” she said. “And President Biden has overseen the most successful open enrollment in history last year with the historic 14.5 million Americans signing up for ACA coverage and another million people signing up for the basic health care program.”
Tuesday marks Biden and Obama’s first joint appearance since attending the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks last fall in New York and their first joint event in Washington since Biden’s inauguration in January 2021.
Back in 2010, when the pair celebrated the ACA’s passage, Biden was caught on hot mic applauding Obama at the White House for what he called “a big f****** deal.”
Paraphrasing the memorable moment, a senior administration official told reporters of the change Biden is announcing Tuesday, “to borrow a phrase, this rule is a — is a big deal.”
“We think it’s the most significant administrative action to improve implementation of the ACA that we’ve taken since the law was first implemented,” the official said.
The rule would begin to take effect beginning Jan. 1, 2023, and Americans will be able to sign up to get financial assistance during the next open enrollment period.
As of last year, about 31 million Americans had health care coverage through the ACA, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
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