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Washington, Jan 13 (IANS) Outgoing US President Barack Obama surprised Vice President Joe Biden by presenting him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour, and called him his "brother" and "the best Vice President America has ever had".
Having called Biden and his wife, Jill, to the White House on Thursday for a private farewell, the President instead brought him into a room filled with his friends, family and colleagues to present him the honour, the New York Times reported.
For the first time, Obama awarded the medal with distinction, an added level of veneration that previous Presidents had reserved for recipients like Pope John Paul II and Colin L. Powell, the former Secretary of State.
"To know Joe Biden is to know love without pretense, service without self-regard, and to live life fully," Obama said during the televised ceremony, as Biden wiped tears from his eyes and dabbed at his nose with a handkerchief.
"Ricchetti, you’re fired," Biden joked to his Chief of Staff, Steve Ricchetti. "I had no inkling."
Addressing Obama, Biden said he had never met anyone who had "the integrity and the decency and the sense of other people’s needs like you do".
The ceremony was an emotional conclusion to an improbable partnership that began in 2008 when Obama asked his former presidential rival to be his running mate. The two men became close during eight years in the White House.
"Mr President, you got right the part about my leaning on Jill," Biden said, referring to the President’s remarks about the couple’s love. "But I’ve also leaned on you and a lot of people in this room."
Obama spoke emotionally about the relationship between his own family and the extended Biden clan, many of whom had gathered for the ceremony. "My family is so proud to call ourselves honorary Bidens," he said.
Biden sought to return the compliment. He noted that the Constitution did not grant the Vice President any inherent powers — "for good reason," he said.
But he said that Obama had made good on a pledge to make sure that Biden had a job that mattered.
"You have more than kept your commitment to me by saying you wanted me to help govern," Biden said, adding that he hoped the history books would record that he was an asterisk in Obama’s historic presidency.
"I can say I was part of a journey of a remarkable man who did remarkable things for this country," Biden said.