Biden bashes Trump and honors top US Democrats during medal ceremony

US President Joe Biden sharply criticized election rival Donald Trump on Friday as he awarded the country’s highest civilian honor to Democratic allies including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Al Gore.

Biden said the veteran Pelosi had “defended democracy” during the January 6, 2021 attack on the US capital by a mob of Trump supporters enraged by the Republican’s election loss a few weeks earlier.

Gore, meanwhile, was “great” for accepting his own disputed election loss to George W. Bush in 2000 for the sake of the country, Biden said, in a marked contrast to Trump’s refusal to accept defeat.

The comments came as Biden, 81, presented them with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony, the political undertones of which were clear with the next US presidential election just six months away.

But the 19 winners also spanned the fields of culture, activism and sports, including Oscar-winning Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, Olympic swimming champion Katie Ledecky and, posthumously, a black civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1963.

Other prominent Democrats honored included former Secretary of State John Kerry, 80, and former New York mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, 82.

Before placing the award around the 84-year-old Pelosi’s neck, Biden said that “history will remember Nancy as the greatest speaker of the House of Representatives.”

“On January 6, Nancy stood in the gap and defended democracy,” said Biden, who has repeatedly hit Trump for saying the former president incited the attack on the Capitol.

Pelosi also led efforts to impeach Trump over the attack.

Biden then praised Gore, 76, who served as Bill Clinton’s vice president and narrowly lost the 2000 election after a Supreme Court decision before becoming a climate campaigner.

“After winning the popular vote, he accepted the outcome of a disputed presidential election for the sake of unity and confidence in our institutions,” Biden said.

“I thought that was great what you did Al – but I’m not going to get into that,” Biden said with a laugh. He often uses a similar phrase to indicate that he is referring to Trump without mentioning him directly.

‘Exemplary contributions’

There was also a medal for Black Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn, whose 2020 endorsement saved Biden’s faltering campaign by winning him the support of Black voters in the South Carolina primary.

The list wasn’t just political.

The 61-year-old Yeoh, who in 2023 became the first Asian woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “continues to shatter stereotypes and enrich American culture,” the White House said.

The medal was awarded posthumously to civil rights activist Medgar Evers, whose infamous murder shaped the American struggle for racial equality six decades ago.

Evers, 37, was shot in 1963 in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi. A member of the Ku Klux Klan, Byron De La Beckwith, was convicted of murder in 1994.

Evers’ widow Myrlie “continued the fight to seek justice and equality in his name” long after his death, the White House said.

Also posthumously honored was American athlete Jim Thorpe, the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal in 1912. He died in 1953.

Ledecky is already a seven-time Olympic gold medalist and is expected to compete in the Paris Games this summer.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom honors people who have “made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values ​​or security of the United States, world peace, or other important civic, public, or private endeavors.”

Biden himself received the Medal of Freedom days before Trump entered the White House in January 2017 – with then-President Barack Obama famously surprising his tearful vice president with the award.

AFP