Obama awards Bi­den the Medal of Free­dom

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - NATION/ WORLD - By JOSH LE­D­ER­MAN and VI­VIAN SALAMA

WASH­ING­TON — At the dusk of both of their po­lit­i­cal ca­reers, sur­rounded by teary friends and fam­ily, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Thurs­day be­stowed the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom on Joe Bi­den, the man he called “the finest vice pres­i­dent we have ever seen.”

The vice pres­i­dent winced in shock as Obama an­nounced he was con­fer­ring the na­tion’s high­est civil honor on his right­hand man for eight years. Bi­den turned away from the cam­eras, wiped away some tears, then stood sto­ically as Obama draped the blue-and­white rib­bon around his neck.

“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,” Bi­den said.

There were stand­ing ova­tions — sev­eral of them — at what had been billed as a mod­est farewell cer­e­mony for Bi­den but evolved into a sur­prise be­stowal of the Medal of Free­dom, the last time Obama will present the honor.

“I had no idea,” Bi­den said of the award, in­sist­ing he didn’t de­serve it.

It was the only time Obama has pre­sented the medal “with dis­tinc­tion,” also awarded only once by each of the pre­vi­ous three pres­i­dents.

One week out from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s end, a deep sense of nos­tal­gia set in at the White House as long­time staffers pack up their of­fices, send out their last emails and bid farewell to the pres­i­dent they’ve served. On Tues­day, Obama re­turned home to Chicago to de­liver his vale­dic­tory ad­dress, and next week he’ll de­part Wash­ing­ton as ex-pres­i­dent just af­ter Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump is sworn in.

Obama, joined Thurs­day by his wife and daugh­ters, was ef­fu­sive in his praise for the man who ran against him in 2008, then agreed to be his run­ning mate. He said Bi­den had made him a bet­ter pres­i­dent, call­ing him “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 plain­spo- ken 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 tran­scended the of­fice, with their wives, chil­dren and Bi­den’s grand­chil­dren be­com­ing close friends.

They dis­agreed, too, on oc­ca­sion, in­clud­ing 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, such as when he un­ex­pect­edly an­nounced sup­port for gay mar­riage in ad­vance of the 2012 re-elec­tion, forc­ing 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,” 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, and of­fered to give them money in­stead.

SU­SAN WALSH/Associated Press

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama presents Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den with the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom dur­ing a cer­e­mony in the State Din­ing Room of the White House in Wash­ing­ton on Thurs­day.

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