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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
President Obama Awards Vice President Biden Presidential Medal Of Freedom. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired January 12, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hunter and Ashley, who lived out that family creed of raising good families and looking out for the least of our brothers and sisters, Beau, who is watching over us with those broad shoulders and mighty heart himself, a man who left a beautiful legacy and inspires an entire nation, Naomi and Finn and Maisy and Natalie, and little Hunter, grandchildren who are the light of Joe's eyes, and gives him an excuse to bust out the squirt gun around the pool.
OBAMA: This is the kind of family that built this country. That's why my family is so proud to call ourselves honorary Bidens.
OBAMA: As Yeats put it, because I had to quote an Irish poet...
OBAMA: ... and Seamus Heaney was taken, think where a man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.
Away from the camera, Jill and Michelle have each other's backs just as much as when they're out championing our troops. Our girls are close, best friends at school, inviting each other for vacations and sleepovers.
Even though our terms are nearly over, one of the greatest gifts of these past eight years is that we're forever bonded as a family. But, of course, I know that the Obamas are not the only ones who feel like they're part of the Biden clan, because Joe's heart has radiated around this room.
You see it in the enduring friendships he's forged with folks of every stripe and background up on Capitol Hill. You see it in the way that his eyes light up when he finds somebody in a rope line from Scranton or just the tiniest towns in Delaware.
(LAUGHTER) OBAMA: You see it in the incredible loyalty of his staff, the team who knows that family always comes before work, because Joe tells them so every day, the team that reflects their boss' humble service here in this building, where there have been no turf wars between our staffs, because everybody here has understood that we are all on the same mission and share the same values.
There has just been cooperation and camaraderie. And that is rare. It's a testament to Joe and the tone that he set.
And, finally, you see he Joe's heart in the way he consoles families, dealing with cancer backstage after an event. When he meets kids fighting through a stutter of their own, he gives them his private phone number and keeps in touch with them long after.
To know Joe Biden is to know that -- love without pretense, service without self-regard, and to live life fully. As one of his longtime colleagues in the Senate who happened to be a Republican once said, if you can't admire Joe Biden as a person, you have got a problem. He is as good a man as God ever created.
So, Joe, for your faith in your fellow Americans, for your love of country, and for your lifetime of service that will endure through the generations, I would like to ask the military aide to join us on stage.
For the final time as president, I am pleased to award our nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: And -- and for -- for the first and only time in my presidency, I will bestow this medal with an additional level of veneration, an honor my three most recent successors reserved for only three others, Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and General Colin Powell.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm proud to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction to my brother Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.
Will the aide please read the citation?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., in a career of public service spanning nearly half-a-century, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has left his mark on almost every part of our nation, fighting for a stronger middle class, a fairer judicial system, and a smarter foreign policy, providing unyielding support for our troops, combating crime and violence against women, leading our quest to cure cancer, and safeguarding the landmark American Recovery and Investment Act from corruption.
With his charm, candor, unabashed optimism and deep and abiding patriotism, Joe Biden has garnered the respect and esteem of colleagues of both parties and the friendship of people across the nation and around the world.
While summoning the strength, faith and grace to overcome great personal tragedy, this son of Scranton, Claymont, and Wilmington has become one of the most consequential vice presidents in American history, an accolade that nonetheless rests firmly behind his legacy as husband, father and grandfather.
A grateful nation thanks Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. for his lifetime of service on behalf of the United States of America.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.
BIDEN: Please, please. Thank you. Thank you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BIDEN: Thank you.
Ricchetti, you're fired.
BIDEN: For the press, Ricchetti is my chief of staff.
BIDEN: I had -- I had no inkling.
I thought we were coming over, Michelle, to -- for you, Jill, and Barack and I to -- a couple of senior staff, to toast one another and say what an incredible journey it's been.
Mr. President, you got right the part about my leaning on Jill. But I have also leaned on you and a lot of people in this room.
I look around the room and I see great friends like Ted Kaufman, who has been -- has so much wisdom, guys like Mel Monzack.
I mean, I look around here, and I'm so startled. I keep seeing people I don't expect.
Madam President, how are you?
Mr. President -- and look at my new boss over there.
BIDEN: But, you know, I get a lot of credit I don't deserve, to state the obvious, and because I have always had somebody to lean on.
From back that time in 1972, when the accident happened, I leaned on -- and I mean this in a literal sense -- Chris knows this -- Dodd knows this, and Mel knows this, and Ted knows this -- I leaned on my sons Beau and Hunter.
And I continue to lean on Hunter, who continues to, in a bizarre kind of way, raise me. I mean, I have leaned on them.
And, you know, Mr. President, you observed early on that, when either one of my boys would walk in the room, they'd walk up and say: "Dad, what can I get you? Dad, what do you need?"
And then Jill came along, and she saved our life. She -- no man deserves one great love, let alone two. And -- but everybody knows here I am Jill's husband. Everybody knows that I love her more than she loves me.
BIDEN: With good reason.
BIDEN: And she gave me the most precious gift, the love of my life, the life of my love, my daughter Ashley.
And I continue to lean on the family.
Mr. President, you kidded me once. You heard that, in the preparation for the two debates, vice presidential debates that I had -- and I only had two -- that Beau and Hunt would be the last people in the room. And Beau would say: "Look at me, dad. Look at me. Remember. Remember home base. Remember."
So -- and the Secret Service can tell you, Mr. President, that Beau and Hunt and Ashley continued to have to corral me. We were at one of the national parks, and I was climbing up on top of a bridge to jump off the bridge with a bunch of young kids. And I hear my sons yelling" "Dad, get down now!"
BIDEN: And I just started laughing so hard, I couldn't stop.
And I said, "I was just going to do a flip, a full gainer off here."
BIDEN: He said: "Dad, the Secret Service doesn't want you up there, dad. Look at me, dad."
BIDEN: You know? So, we have never figured out who the father is in this family.
BIDEN: And, Mr. President, you know that, with good reason, there is no power in the vice presidency.
As a matter of fact, I just did, for Nancy Pelosi's daughters, who had reading of the Constitution, and you probably did one for her. And they had me read the provisions relating to the vice presidency in the Constitution. And there is no inherent power, nor should there be.
But, Mr. President, you have -- you have more than kept your commitment to me by saying that you wanted me to help govern.
The president's line often -- other people don't hear it that often, but when someone would say, can you get Joe to do such and such, he says, "I don't do his schedule, he doesn't do mine."
Every single thing you have asked me to do, Mr. President, you have trusted me to do. And that is a -- that's a remarkable thing.
I don't think, according to -- I see the president of Georgetown here as well. I don't think, according to the presidential and vice presidential scholars, that kind of relationship has existed, I mean, for real.
And it's all you, Mr. President. It's all you.
The reason why, when you send me around the world, nothing gets -- as my mom would say, gets missed between the cup and the lip, is because, they know, when I speak, I speak for you.
And it's been easy, Mr. President, because we not only have the same political philosophy and ideology. I tell everybody, and I have told them from the beginning -- and I'm not saying this to reciprocate -- I have never known a president, and few people I have ever met in my whole life -- I can count on less than one hand -- who have had the integrity and the decency and the sense of other people's needs like you do.
I know you're upset when I told the story about when Hunt and I were worried that Beau would have to -- that he would, as a matter of honor, decide he had to step down as attorney general while he was fighting his battle, because he had aphasia. He was losing his ability to speak.
And he didn't want to ever be in a position where -- to him, everything was about duty and honor. And I said: "And he may resign. I don't know. I just have a feeling he may. And Hunt and I talked about this."
And I said, "He doesn't have any other income, but we're all right, because Hunt's there, and I can sell the house."
We were having a private lunch, like we do once a week. And this man got
[16:15:00] JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just have a feeling he may. Hunt and I talked about this. He said, he doesn't have any other income, but we're all right because Hunt's there and I can sell the house. We were having a private lunch like we do once a week.
And this man got up, came over, grabbed me by the shoulders, and looked me in the eye and said, "Don't you sell that house. You love that house." I said, "It's no big deal, Mr. President. He said, I'll give you the money. I'll give you the money. Promise me. Promise me. You won't sell that house."
I remember when Ashley, Mr. President, we were in the Oval and Ashley was in the elevator, and the elevator plummeted to -- she was with a group of people, I forget which building in Philadelphia, it plummeted to the ground. And immediately the service was worried that she may have been badly hurt. And I got up to take the call and you didn't let up until you made sure your service followed through and made sure everything was all right.
But, you know, Mr. President, you know, we kid about both about marrying up, we both did that kind of thing. But the truth of the matter is -- I said this to Michelle last night -- Michelle is the finest first lady, in my view, that has ever served in the office. There's another great first ladies, but I generally mean it.
When I got to meet Michelle's brother and he told me about how you guys were raised and I got to know and love your mom, if your mom were 15 years older, she could have been my mom, I mean, literally. The way you were raised, the way we were raised, it wasn't any difference. And I knew that this decision to join you, which is the greatest honor in my life, was the right decision on the night we had to go and accept the nomination, the formal -- to be nominated at the convention.
And Finnegan who is now 18-year-old, was ten years old. She came to me and she said, pop, is it okay if the room that we're in, Finnegan, Macie (ph) and Naomi, that we have the beds taken out? And I said, why? She said, maybe the Obama girls and your brother's children, maybe they can come down and we can all sleep together in sleeping bags.
And I give you my word as a Biden, I knew when I left to go to the convention, open that door and saw them cuddled together, I knew this was the right decision. I knew it was the right decision. I really did. Because, Mr. President, the same value set, the same value set.
Folks, you know, I joke with my staff that I don't know why they pay them anything because they get to advise me.
Let me explain what I mean by that. As the president of the University of Delaware where my heart resides in my home campus in Delaware, they can tell you, it's -- I get to give advice. I get to be the last guy in the room and give you advice on the most difficult decisions anyone has to make in the whole world. But I get to walk out and you make it all by yourself, all by yourself.
Harry Truman was right about the buck stopping at the desk. And I've never, never, never, never, never once doubted on these life and death decisions, I never once doubted that your judgment was flawed, not once, not once. We've disagreed and we've argued and we've raised our voices at one another. We made a deal we would be completely open like brothers with one another.
But, Mr. President, I've watched you under intense fire. I will venture to say that no president in history has had as many novel crises land on his desk in all of history.
[16:20:01] The civil war was worse. The World War II was worse. But, Mr. President, almost every one of the crises you faced was a case of first instance, case of first instance. And I watched that prodigious mind and heart as big as your head, I've watched you. I've watched how you've acted.
When you see a woman or man under intense pressure, you get a measure and you know that, Michelle, and your daughters know it as well. This is a remarkable man. And 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, part of the journey of a remarkable man who did remarkable things for this country. Remarkable.
You know, I can't let a comment go by without quoting an Irish poet.
Jill and I talk about why you are able to develop the way you developed and with the heart you have. Michelle and I have talked about it. I've confided in Michelle, I've gone to her for advice. We've talked about this man. You've given me insight.
And I think it's because, Mr. President, you gave me credit for having understanding other people's misery and suffering. Mr. President, there's not one single solitary ounce of entitlement in you or Michelle or your beautiful daughters.
You girls are incredible. You really are. It's not hyperbole, you really are. Not one ounce of entitlement. And Seamus Heaney, one of those poets said --
When you can find someone who says it better, use it. He said, you carried your own burden, and very soon, your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared. You carried your own burdens and very soon your creeping symptoms of privilege disappeared.
Mr. President, you have sometimes been like a lone wolf, but you carried yourself in a way that is pretty remarkable. The history of the journey, your journey, is something people are going to write about a long time. And I'm not being solicitous when I say this. And you are so fortunate, both of you, to have found each other because all that grounding, all that that you have made this guy totally whole. And It's pretty amazing.
Mr. President, this honor is not only well beyond what I deserve, but it's a reflection of the extent and generosity of your spirit. I don't deserve this. But I know it came from the president's heart. There is a Talmudic saying that says, what comes from the heart and is the heart.
[16:25:02] Mr. President, you have creeped into our heart, you and your whole family, including mom, and you occupy it. 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 years you worked in the Senate. And I knew what you were capable of.
But I never fully expected that you'd occupy the Bidens' heart from Hunter, Ashley, my sister, all of us, all of us.
And, Mr. President, I -- I am indebted to you. I'm indebted to your friendship. I'm indebted to your family. And as I'll tell you on a humorous note, we're having lunch, lunches, mostly -- it's whatever is in our minds. We talk about family an awful lot.
And about six months in, president looks at me and he said, you know, Joe? You know what surprised me? How we've become such good friends.
And I said, surprised you?
But that is candid Obama.
And it's real. Mr. President, you know as long as there is breath in me, I'll be there for you, my whole family will be. And I know, I know it is reciprocal. And I want to thank you all so very, very, very much, all of you for being here.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Vice President Joe Biden, he's being greeted there. I think that's his son Hunter. Is he done talking? It's not clear yet.
He's calling up members of his family. President Obama surprised him. There was a farewell ceremony that the vice president knew about, but what he did not know was that President Obama would be presenting him with the highest civilian honor there is, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
President Obama saying that picking Joe Biden was the first decision he had made as a Democratic presidential nominee, the Democratic presidential nominee, and the best one, he said.
Joining me to talk about this and obviously if somebody returns to the microphone to speak, we'll go back to it.
Joining me more to talk about this is CNN political chief Gloria Borger. We have with us presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley, CNN's chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, and we also have with us, White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski.
Gloria, this seems a rather unprecedented move. But then when they were bestowing the honor on the vice-president, they referred to him as one of the most consequential vice presidents in American history.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is an astonishing move. You look at the surprise from Joe Biden. I think his staff was keeping it from him. And I think these two, when you think back on t they're such an odd couple. And they kind of grew together over the past eight years, particularly after Beau Biden got sick and Barack Obama and Joe Biden developed a bond as fathers.
And I think that when you hear Joe Biden talk about Barack Obama, it's almost as if, of course, he's talking about the commander-in- chief, but it's almost as if he's talking about somebody who has become a brother to him, somebody he admires, respects, has grown close to. And, you know, it wasn't always that way at the beginning of their tenure in office together.
And I think the story that he told, that he told me actually awhile ago about how the president said, don't sell the house in Delaware, when he thought he had to earn some money, get some money to pay for Beau Biden's health care, it's really an astonishing story about the closeness between these two men -- not only on a political level, but on a really personal, and again brotherly level that it's become.
TAPPER: Douglas Brinkley, sometimes the president, vice-presidential pick, their marriage is of political convenience. And as Gloria recalls, there were complaints by David Plouffe, the campaign manager in 2008, that the bench for picking a V.P. wasn't that great.