Biden awards Medal of Freedom to 19 people including Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore and Michelle Yeoh

President congratulated the recipients for their ‘relentlessness and curiosity’ after describing each of them and their accomplishments

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Friday 03 May 2024 22:59 BST
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Nancy Pelosi honored with Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Biden on Friday hailed the accomplishments of what he described as “an incredible group of people” as he awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 19 recipients at a White House ceremony in the East Room, including former vice president Al Gore, ex-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Oscar-winning actress Michelle Yeoh.

Mr Biden congratulated the recipients for their “relentlessness and curiosity” after describing each of them and their accomplishments.

“Nineteen incredible people whose relentless curiosity, inventiveness, ingenuity, and hope have kept faith in a better tomorrow,” he said.

The award is America’s highest civilian honour and is awarded solely at the discretion of the President of the United States.

The White House says that the medal is “presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors”.

US President Joe Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former US Vice President Al Gore in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on 3 May 2024
US President Joe Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former US Vice President Al Gore in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on 3 May 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Biden previously bestowed the medal on 17 others in a ceremony held in 2022, including gymnast Simone Biles, actor Denzel Washington, and former Arizona congresswoman turned gun safety advocate Gabrielle Giffords.

This time around, Mr Gore, Mr Bloomberg and Ms Yeoh were joined by 17 other new recipients, including several current or former members of Congress.

Mr Biden honoured his presidential climate envoy, former Secretary of State and ex-Massachusetts Senator John Kerry as well as House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, South Carolina Representative James Clyburn, former North Carolina senator and transportation secretary Elizabeth Dole, and the late New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg.

President Joe Biden awards the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to former Secretary of State John Kerry during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Joe Biden awards the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to former Secretary of State John Kerry during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (AP)

Of Mr Clyburn, the president acknowledged the South Carolinian’s crucial role in catapulting him to the top of the Democratic field during the 2020 presidential primary.

Joe Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to US Representative James Clyburn in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 3, 2024.
Joe Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to US Representative James Clyburn in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 3, 2024. (AFP via Getty Images)

“I can say this without fear of contradiction. I would not be standing here as President making these awards, were it not for Jim,” he said, adding that neither he nor Mr Clyburn would be there without Mr Clyburn’s late wife, Emily Clyburn.

He also bestowed the medal on another US Olympian, decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky, as well as the late Olympic legend Jim Thorpe, the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal.

Joe Biden awards the Medal of Freedom to Actress Michelle Yeoh during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on May 3, 2024 in Washington, DC
Joe Biden awards the Medal of Freedom to Actress Michelle Yeoh during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on May 3, 2024 in Washington, DC (Getty Images)

Mr Biden recalled how he’d first met Ms Ledecky following her first Olympic wins in 2012, and noted that she’d soon be competing in the 2024 Olympics at age 27, an age Mr Biden quipped might be considered “old for swimming”.

“Age is just a number, kid,” he said, adding that he “can’t wait to welcome you back to the White House with more medals” after this year’s games.

Several civil rights advocates were honoured, including LGBT+ rights crusader Judy Shepard, Clarence Jones, the activist and lawyer who helped draft the late Rev Dr Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and activist Opal Lee, the educator who successfully pushed for Juneteenth to be made a federal holiday.

Joe Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to US Representative Nancy Pelosi in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 3, 2024.
Joe Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to US Representative Nancy Pelosi in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 3, 2024. (AFP via Getty Images)

Medgar Evers, the late civil rights leader, also received the award posthumously, with his daughter Reena on hand to be presented the medal by Mr Biden.

Mr Biden is himself a recipient of the medal in its’ highest degree, the Medal of Freedom With Distinction, a rarely-awarded version which is worn as a star on the left chest along with a sash, similar to a Grand Cross in an order of chivalry.

The White House said the Americans being honoured on Friday were chosen because they “built teams, coalitions, movements, organizations, and businesses that shaped America for the better”.

Joe Biden awards the Medal of Freedom to US Olympic gold medal swimmer Katie Ledecky during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on May 3, 2024
Joe Biden awards the Medal of Freedom to US Olympic gold medal swimmer Katie Ledecky during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on May 3, 2024 (Getty Images)

“They are the pinnacle of leadership in their fields. They consistently demonstrated over their careers the power of community, hard work, and service,” the White House added.

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