Washington, Jan 12 (EFE).- President Barack Obama on Thursday, in a surprise move, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, to Vice President Joe Biden, who has been his companion and No. 2 official for the eight years he has occupied the White House.
At a farewell ceremony for Biden, Obama surprised the vice president by giving an emotional speech in which, however, he did not reveal he was about to present him with the award.
The president moved Biden to tears, praising him as “the best vice president America has ever had,” “a lion of American history” and a “brother.”
Obama said he was bestowing the award on Biden for “faith in your fellow Americans, for your love of country and a lifetime of service that will endure through the generations.”
At the conclusion of a speech filled with praise, thanks and good words, Obama presented a clearly surprised, stunned and overcome Biden with the award.
Among the past recipients of the rarely-bestowed honor are Pope John Paul II, former President Ronald Reagan and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“For the final time as president, I am pleased to award our nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Obama said to a standing ovation, whereupon Biden immediately broke down in tears.
Obama said he was presenting the award to the VP for “your faith in your fellow Americans, for your love of country and a lifetime of service that will endure through the generations.”
“If you can’t admire Joe Biden, you have a problem,” Obama emphasized, citing a Republican senator.
Biden, who confessed that he had no inkling about what was to transpire at the tribute, appeared deeply moved and accepted the award, but he claimed that he did not deserve such a high honor.
“It’s an amazing thing that happened. I knew how smart you were, I knew how honorable you were, I knew how decent you were from the couple of years we worked in the Senate. I knew what you were capable of but I never fully expected you’d occupy the Biden heart,” said the vice president in his own remarks after receiving the medal.
“Mr. President, I am indebted to you. I am indebted you and your family,” he added. “You know as long as there’s breath in me, I’ll be there for you and your whole family and I know it is reciprocal. Thank you all so very, very, very much.”
The award recognizes those people who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors” and is not limited to US citizens or to civilians.