News World Sandwiches and $400,000 speeches: Barack Obama’s post-presidential life

Sandwiches and $400,000 speeches: Barack Obama’s post-presidential life

Barack Obama
Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, Barack Obama has lamented the turn the US has taken since November's election. Photo: Getty
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An hour inside Barack Obama’s post-presidential life included boxed sandwiches, scores of money managers and a treatise on health care reform.

Those were the main ingredients on Monday when Mr Obama spoke in Manhattan at a conference on health care sponsored by the brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald — at least his ninth paid speech since leaving office.

Steel-jawed and wearing a dark suit and an American-flag lapel pin, Mr Obama was reserved in describing the dogfight over health care in Washington, which threatens to derail his signature legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act.

During his 25-minute prepared remarks, Mr Obama’s laugh lines were few, and his swipes at the Trump administration even fewer. Instead, he undertook a professorial review of what the health care law had accomplished, considered its remaining problems, and swept through some potential solutions.

“This is a big system, and it’s complicated, but what to do that would make it better is actually not that mysterious,” Mr Obama told a ballroom of some 500 people. “But it does require putting ideology aside.”

The speech was Mr Obama’s third to a financial crowd in the past month – he also spoke to clients of the money-management firm Northern Trust Corporation and the private-equity firm Carlyle Group – and gave some indication of how he has been navigating the moneymaking opportunities of his newly private life.

Since leaving the White House in January, the former president and his wife have reportedly won a $US60 million ($A75.8 million) joint book deal, and his speaking fees – including to Cantor – have gone as high as $US400,000 ($A505,000) per speech. He has also vacationed on an exclusive island and taken up residence in an $8.1 million ($10.2 million) home.

That is all in addition to a spate of unpaid speeches, including one to at-risk youths in Chicago, and a separate event Monday for the Beau Biden Foundation, which focuses on protecting children from abuse and was named for the son of Vice President Joe Biden who died of cancer in 2015.

obama branson
Former US president Barack Obama jokes with billionaire Richard Branson during his stay on Moskito Island, British Virgin Islands. Photo: AP

“Since leaving office, President Obama has spent his time doing public and private events, both paid and unpaid, that are true to his values and his record,” Kevin Lewis, the former president’s spokesman, wrote in an email. Mr Lewis added that the paid speeches had helped make it possible for Mr Obama to contribute $2 million ($A2.5 million) to employment and job training programs for low-income young people in Chicago.

Mr Lewis declined to comment on how the president, who has avoided much of the criticism faced by Hillary Clinton and other public officials who made paid speeches to private industry after leaving office, selects his paid engagements.

After his prepared remarks and a few longer questions, Mr Obama participated in what the brokerage firm’s chief executive, Howard Lutnick, called a “lightning round”. But Mr Obama ended up fielding only one inquiry – about technology and government health care costs – and answered it soberly and at length, running out the clock.

Mr Obama then beseeched the audience of health care business professionals to keep the sick and scared at the core of what they did.

“If you’re going to make money this way, you better think about it,” he said.

Last week, Mr Obama called attempts to undo the Affordable Care Act “aggravating” at a Gates Foundation event and on Monday he called them a cynical political exercise. Another problem, Mr Obama added, was that the “current administration” has taken steps “to make it harder for people to sign up for coverage during this year’s open enrolment period”.

The White House did not comment on Mr Obama’s criticism on Monday evening.

Despite a mostly button-down tone, Mr Obama was not entirely without mirth. Toward the end of his speech he referred to President Donald Trump’s recent tweets aimed at NFL players.

“Our big problem right now is politics,” he said. “Can’t even get it out of football!”

The New York Times

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