One week more, and the two-term presidency of Barack Obama shall end to give way for President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, and all that entails. The outgoing president, therefore, has been working at breakneck speed to squeeze out some last few bits of executive action before that deadline, doing everything from making policy changes regarding Cuba to naming a now-rare bumblebee as an endangered species. But what he did January 12 may well be his masterstroke, as it also involves his outgoing Vice-President Joe Biden, whom he awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with Distinction, his last instance of giving out an award as President.

Not a drinks reception

It was some slight omission of facts in an invitation from the President that had Biden coming to the White House that Thursday, assuming that it was an informal gathering for another round of toasts and farewell speeches at the end of the Obama administration. He couldn’t have quite expected Obama dedicating a speech to him, where his working relationship with the President was cheekily described as a “bromance” and where he was lauded as a “lion of American history” and even the “best Vice-President America has ever had”.

The money shot came however when a Marine guard came forward bearing a familiar decoration, a star on a blue ribbon. Biden couldn’t quite help but turn around and wipe his eyes as the President declared that he was being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, then had the formal citation read out loud.

An awarding for the record

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is known as the highest civilian award of the United States, sometimes deemed comparable to the highest military award, the Medal of Honor. It has two degrees, the higher one being titled “with distinction”, which was what Obama presented to Biden. It’s the only one such that he awarded during his presidency, similar to his three immediate predecessors each giving only one Medal of Freedom with Distinction in their terms of office.

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For the curious, those were for former President Ronald Reagan (by George H.W. Bush), former General then Secretary of State Colin Powell (by Bill Clinton), and Pope John Paul II/the Great (by George W. Bush).

Close bond

During his acceptance speech, VP Biden humbly remarked that he felt undeserving of the award. He gave his own praise to Obama and his family, to whom he and his own family had forged a strong friendship through the years, such as when the President offered to foot the bill for the medical expenses of Biden’s son, the late Attorney General Beau Biden who died of brain cancer in 2015.

The Vice President closed off with this remark. “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.”