Washington – US President Barack Obama surprised Vice President Joe Biden by awarding him the country’s highest civilian honour at a ceremony in the White House on Thursday.
“I had no inkling,” a teary Biden declared after Obama placed the Presidential Medal of Freedom around his neck.
The medal was awarded, “with distinction,” an added level of honour that has been given to just three other people, Pope John Paul II, president Ronald Reagan and General Colin Powell.
Obama introduced his number two as “the best vice president America’s ever had, Mr Joe Biden,” and declared the two have a “bromance”.
US President Barack Obama awarded Vice President Joe Biden the Medal of Freedom at an emotional event in the State Dinning room of the White House, Washington DC on January 12, 2017. (Credit Image: © Olivier Douliery/CNP/Pool via ZUMA Wire)
“This is an extraordinary man, with an extraordinary career in public service,” Obama said, praising him for his work oh behalf of the administration but also his personal qualities.
Declaring that he would award the medal for his final time as president to Biden, Obama called Biden “my brother.”
A visibly shocked Biden briefly turned away from the audience that he had been told was assembled for a simple farewell ceremony and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket.
A presidential citation pointed to Biden’s career of public service in the Senate as well as the vice presidency and the overcoming of personal tragedy in the death of his first wife and young daughter shortly before he entered the Senate and later the death of his adult son, Beau.
Biden has been a key figure in Obama’s administration, taking on a role in foreign policy and most recently spearheading efforts to fund cancer research after the death of his son Beau from a brain tumour in 2015.
Biden and Obama have become close friends during eight years in office.