WASHINGTON – In the final days of his presidency, Barack Obama surprised then-Vice President Joe Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and moved his No. 2 to tears by evoking the poetry of W.B. Yeats and declaring, "Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.’”
Obama returned Tuesday to the White House to mark the 12th anniversary of his administration's signature health care law. He jokingly referred to Biden as “vice president” before the pair embraced.
“Most of all, coming back here gives me a chance to say thank you and spend some time with an extraordinary friend and partner who was by my side for eight years,” Obama said.
He later had lunch with Biden, as they did weekly while Obama was president.
“They are real friends, not just Washington friends,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who added, “It’s not a relationship of obligation. It’s one where they developed a deep and close friendship through the course of their time serving together."
The two originally competed for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, then Obama made Biden his running mate to bring Washington experience to the ticket. Biden said he wanted to be the last person in the room giving Obama advice.
Biden proved an asset to Obama in that election and the two only got closer while winning a second term in 2012. Some of Biden's key tasks included overseeing the disbursement of federal stimulus funds following the 2008 financial crisis, and helping negotiate major legislation with Republicans in Congress. After the health law was passed in 2010, he memorably declared that it was a “big (expletive) deal.”
That Biden and Obama enjoyed each other's company was obvious during lighthearted moments, as when they attended a 2010 Georgetown-Duke basketball game. But they also collaborated closely during serious Cabinet meetings, and amid tragedy, including somberly laying flowers together outside the scene of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida. Obama helped console Biden after the death of son Beau, from a brain tumor in 2015, and after Biden agonized before ultimately deciding not to run for president in 2016.
After Republican Donald Trump won that race, Obama worked to keep that from repeating in 2020, campaigning hard for Biden in key swing states.