A tearful Biden was overcome with emotion as Obama placed the medal around his neck and the two leaders embraced.
Biden thanked the president and spoke of how Obama stepped in to offer financial help when his late son, Beau, was fighting brain cancer and Biden was considering selling one of the family’s homes to pay for treatment.
“Mr. President, you have crept into our heart, you and your whole family, and you occupy it,” Biden said.
“It’s an amazing thing that happened,” he continued. “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.”
“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.”
Obama began the ceremony by praising his second in command in a moving speech, calling him “the best vice president America has ever had,” “a lion of American history” and a “brother.”
“To know Joe Biden is to know love without pretense, service without self regard and to live life fully,” the president said. “As one of his longtime colleagues in the Senate said — who happened to be a Republican — if you can’t admire Joe Biden, you have a problem.”
“For your lifetime of service that will endure through the generations, I’d like to ask the military to join us onstage,” the president continued before presenting Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor.
Obama told Biden he was bestowing the award on him for “your faith in your fellow Americans, for your love of country and a lifetime of service that will endure through the generations.”
Though the mood at the ceremony was emotional, Obama also joked about Biden’s famous aviators, as well as his fondness for Amtrak and the word “literally.”
“Folks don’t just feel like they know Joe the politician,” Obama said. “They feel like they know the person.”