On Thursday, outgoing President Barack Obama surprised Vice President Joe Biden with the highest presidential honor a civilian can get: the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A tearful Biden accepted the distinction for a “lifetime of public service” but repeatedly said he didn’t deserve it.
Obama used many kind words to describe the outgoing VP. He even mentioned Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s words to describe Biden in 2015: he is “as good a man as God has ever created.” Obama awarded the medal “with distinction” to a man he could easily call the “Lion of American History”.
Biden Had Expected a Toast
VP Biden was visibly shocked during the entire speech. On Thursday, Biden and Obama met at the White House for a final tribute to the Vice President. Obama started the event with an emotional tribute to one of his closest friends and “America’s best VP,” Joe Biden.
When Obama announced the honor, Biden turned his back to press and wiped his tears with a handkerchief. Only the medal was awarded “with distinction” to only three other people: Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Gen. Colin Powell.
Biden delivered an emotional acceptance speech saying it took him by complete surprise. He thought Obama was going to toast for the “incredible journey it had been.”
I don’t deserve this,
Biden said multiple times.
After calling him a “lion,” Obama praised him for his work as a U.S. senator. VP Biden had a large influence both domestically and internationally. His ideas shaped many of the country’s policies such as the strategies in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and the mission to seek and kill Osama bin Laden.
Biden Influenced Key U.S. Policies
Biden also oversaw Obama’s economic stimulus package during his first mandate. He also pushed for tighter gun control measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre but without success.
Obama also talked about their enduring friendship despite hardships and tragedies. In 2015, Biden lost his son to cancer and Obama delivered a heartfelt speech at the funeral. Later Biden disclosed the president said he would help him with medical bills to pay for his son’s treatment. At that point, the VP was about to sell his house to cover the costs. Obama offered financial help and made him promise he would not sell his home.
Obama, on the other hand, praised Biden for being a family man “who rode the rails home there every night so he could be there to tuck his kids into bed.” In 1972, Biden lost both his wife and daughter in a car accident.
On Thursday, Biden acknowledged he didn’t agree on everything with the outgoing president but he trusted his judgement. Biden expressed his hope history will remember him as somebody who stood by a “remarkable man” who deeply cared about the nation.
Seconds after the president draped the medal around his neck, the vice president said he didn’t deserve the honor. Yet he accepted it because it was coming from “the president’s heart.” Obama will leave office in a week.
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