President Obama awards Biden the Medal of Freedom
At the dusk of both of their political careers, surrounded by teary friends and family, President Barack Obama has bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Joe Biden. Obama called him "the finest vice president we have ever seen."
Biden winced in shock as Obama announced he was presenting the nation's highest civil honor on his right-hand-man for eight years. Biden turned away from the cameras. He wiped away some tears. Then he stood stoically. Obama draped the blue-and-white ribbon around his neck.
"I can say I was part of the journey of a remarkable man who did remarkable things for this country," Biden said of the president.
There were several standing ovations Jan. 12 at what had been billed as a modest farewell ceremony for Biden. But it evolved into a surprise. That surprise was the bestowal of the Medal of Freedom. It was the last time Obama will present the honor.
"I had no idea," Biden said of the award. He insisted he didn't deserve it.
It was the only time Obama has presented the medal "with distinction." It was awarded only once by each of the previous three presidents.
Obama was joined by his wife and daughters. He was effusive in his praise for Biden, who ran against him in 2008. Then Biden agreed to be his running mate. Obama said Biden had made him a better president. He called Biden "a lion of American history."
"To know Joe Biden is to know love without pretense, service without self-regard and to live life fully," Obama said.
The famously plainspoken Biden has long said he only agreed to the job after Obama agreed he would be the last person in the room before major decisions were made. Over two terms, they developed a bond that both men said went beyond the office. Their wives, children and Biden's grandchildren became close friends.
They disagreed, too, on occasion. Once was when Biden advocated against the high-stakes raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Biden's tendency to veer off-script caused occasional headaches for the White House. Once was when he unexpectedly announced support for gay marriage in advance of the 2012 re-election. That forced Obama to do the same soon after.
Yet as they gathered for a final goodbye, none of that seemed on either man's mind.
Obama said there had been "no turf wars between our staffs." That was a departure from other recent administrations. And Biden told the story of how after his son Beau Biden died in 2015, leaving behind a wife and children, Obama was distraught when Biden said he might sell his house to help support them. The president offered to give them money instead.
Obama traced the history of Biden's nearly half-century-long political career. Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees. Recently he started the "cancer moonshot" effort. Biden plans to continue that, to find a cure for cancer. Obama praised his vice president for his work on the economic stimulus, middle-class issues and curbing violence against women.
Biden's career in Washington started in 1972. It began in tragedy. That is when his wife and infant daughter died in a car crash just before he was to be sworn in as U.S. senator. He plans to stay active in Democratic politics and work on policy issues at a pair of institutes he's developing at the University of Delaware and the University of Pennsylvania.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What did President Obama mean by calling Vice President Biden “a lion of American history?”
Write your answers in the comments section below