WASHINGTON — President Obama bestowed the nation’s highest civilian honor on Vice President Biden Thursday, calling his running mate and presidential understudy “the best vice president America has ever had.”
The surprise State Room ceremony was alternately humorous and poignant, with Biden turning his face from the audience to wipe away his tears.
“I had no inkling,” Biden said, saying he thought the event was supposed to be for first lady Michelle Obama. He jokingly fired his chief of staff for not telling him. “I don’t deserve this, but I know this came from the president’s heart.”
Only two other vice presidents have received the honor. President Gerald Ford awarded it to his vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, in 1977, and President Jimmy Carter awarded it to Lyndon Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey, in 1980.
But Biden’s medal also came with an additional rare honor: The Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. That additional designation has been bestowed to only three others: Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan and former secretary of State Colin Powell.
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