Biden awards Medal of Freedom to 19 recipients, including Pelosi, Clyburn

President Biden on Friday awarded the Medal of Freedom to 19 recipients, including top longtime Democratic congressional leaders, calling them “an incredible group of people.”

“Nineteen incredible people whose relentless curiosity, inventiveness, ingenuity, and hope have kept faith in a better tomorrow,” the president said, with the group of recipients sitting beside him at the podium.

Biden spoke about each recipient individually before giving them their medals. He called the medal ceremony one of his favorite events at the White House, sharing that former President Kennedy established the Medal of Freedom award 61 years ago.

The recipients included former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), former Vice President Al Gore (D) and Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Biden gave a particular shoutout to Clyburn, whose endorsement ahead of the Democratic South Carolina is largely attributed to Biden ultimately winning the nomination in 2020.

“I would not be standing here as president, making these awards, if not for Jim,” Biden said. “Jim is the best, thank you.”

The president commended Pelosi for what he said was defending democracy on Jan. 6, 2021, and said history will remember her as the greatest Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Biden noted Gore won the popular vote “but accepted the outcome of the presidential election for the sake of unity and trust in our institutions,” in what appeared to be a dig into former President Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Biden.

Other recipients included actor Michelle Yeoh, Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, activist Opal Lee, and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Biden noted Ledecky has won 10 Olympic medals and added, “I can’t wait to welcome you back to the White House with more medals for Team USA” after the Paris Olympics this summer.

Additionally, the recipients included former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (D), Gregory J. Boyle, a Jesuit Catholic priest who founded Homeboy Industries, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), and media personality Phil Donahue.

He said Bloomberg has “revolutionized our economy” and “changed us and challenged us as well.”

Of Donahue, Biden said: “He helped change hearts and minds through honest and open dialogue.”

“I wish you were still speaking there, pal.”

He also honored civil rights activist Clarence B. Jones, astronaut Ellen Ochoa, astronomer Jane Rigby, United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero, and Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, who was attacked and later died of his injuries in one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in U.S. history.

Biden said Romero made “life better for thousands of farm workers” and someone who “shows us what it means to be a champion of dignity of work.”

Posthumously, Biden honored civil rights activist Medgar Wiley Evers, who was murdered in 1963, former Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Jim Thorpe, a multi-sport athlete who was the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal.

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