A planned private farewell in the State Dining Room of the White House turned into a surprise of a lifetime for Vice President Joe Biden when President Obama honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (with distinction which in this case means with an additional veneration), the nation’s highest civilian honor.
A military aide read the citation:
“Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. In a career of public service spanning nearly half a century, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., has left his mark on almost every part of our nation, fighting for a stronger middle class, a fairer judicial system and a smarter foreign policy; providing unyielding support for our troops; combatting crime and violence against women; leading our quest to cure cancer; and safeguarding the landmark American Recovery and Reinvestment Act from corruption.
With his charm, candor, unabashed optimism, and deep and abiding patriotism, Joe Biden has garnered the respect and esteem of colleagues of both parties, and the friendship of people across the nation and around the world. While summoning the strength, faith and grace to overcome great personal tragedy, this son of Scranton, Claymont, and Wilmington has become one of the most consequential Vice Presidents in American history, an accolade that nonetheless rests firmly behind his legacy as husband, father, and grandfather.
A grateful nation thanks Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. for his lifetime of service on behalf of the United States of America.”
(The Medal of Freedom was presented.)
During the surprise ceremony President Obama said of Vice President Joe Biden (these are selected excerpts):
“He was the best possible choice, not just for me, but for the American people. This is an extraordinary man with an extraordinary career in public service.”
“And for the past eight years, he could not have been a more devoted or effective partner in the progress that we’ve made. He fought to make college more affordable and revitalize American manufacturing as the head of our Middle Class Task Force. He suited up for our Cancer Moonshot, giving hope to millions of Americans touched by this disease.
He led our efforts to combat gun violence, and he rooted out any possible misappropriations that might have occurred. And as a consequence, the Recovery Act worked as well as just about any largescale stimulus project has ever worked in this country. He visited college after college — and made friends with Lady Gaga (laughter) — for our “It’s On Us” campaign against campus sexual assault. And when the Pope visited, Joe was even kind enough to let me talk to His Holiness, as well.”
“Behind the scenes, Joe’s candid, honest counsel has made me a better President and a better Commander-in-Chief. From the Situation Room to our weekly lunches, to our huddles after everybody else has cleared out of the room, he’s been unafraid to give it to me straight, even if we disagree — in fact, especially if we disagree.”
“And all of this makes him, I believe, the finest Vice President we have ever seen. And I also think he has been a lion of American history. The best part is he’s nowhere close to finished. In the years ahead, as a citizen, he will continue to build on that legacy, internationally and domestically. He’s got a voice of vision and reason and optimism, and a love for people. And we’re going to need that spirit and that vision as we continue to try to make our world safer and to make sure that everybody has got a fair shot in this country.”
Vice President Biden responded (selected excerpts):
“The reason why when you send me around the world, nothing gets — as my mom would say, gets missed between the cup and the lip, it’s because they know when I speak, I speak for you.
And it’s been easy, Mr. President, because we not only have the same political philosophy and ideology, I tell everybody — and I’ve told them from the beginning. And I’m not saying this to reciprocate. I’ve never known a President and few people I’ve ever met my whole life — I can count on less than one hand — who have had the integrity and the decency and the sense of other people’s needs like you do.”
“I get to be the last guy in the room and give you advice on the most difficult decisions anyone has to make in the whole world. But I get to walk out, and you make it all by yourself. All by yourself.
Harry Truman was right about the buck stopping at the desk. And I’ve never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never once doubted, on these life and death decisions, I never once doubted that your judgement was flawed — not once. Not once.”
“And we’ve disagreed, and we’ve argued, and we’ve raised our voices, one of which we made a deal we’d be completely open like brothers with one another. But, Mr. President, I watched you under intense fire. I will venture to say that no President in history has had as many novel crises land on his desk in all of history. The Civil War was worse, the World War Two was worse, but, Mr. President, almost every one of the crises you faced was a case of first instance — a case of first instance. And I watched that prodigious mind and that heart as big as your head — I’ve watched you. I’ve watched how you’ve acted.”
“And I just hope that the asterisk in history that is attached to my name when they talk about this presidency is that I can say I was part of the journey of a remarkable man who did remarkable things for this country.”
The relationship between the President and Vice President wasn’t always smooth. They disagreed over a number of issues (one example: same-sex marriage) and Biden has been often blamed for speaking too frankly, occasionally even in public. Theirs wasn’t a match made in heaven from the beginning of Obama’s presidency.
The expression “bromance” is funny. The truth however is that powerful bonds are forged while overcoming (work-related and personal) adversity together. If the President and the Vice President proven their integrity and value under trying circumstances to each other and developed mutual respect, we’ve had the BEST at the steering wheel of our Country. Together they carried us through the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Together they brought about many positive changes. And for that we are grateful to both.