“This,” Biden said at the conclusion of the event, “is America.”
Biden, a president who loves ceremonies — often relishing the moments when, as vice president, he swore in new U.S. senators — was in his element for the duration of the event. He smiled at the introduction of each guest, offering salutes and handshakes, kisses and hugs.
The honorees were a study in contrasts, a group that included Biles, 25, the most decorated U.S. gymnast in history, who has advocated for sexual assault victims, as well as former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), 90, the sharp-tongued politician and governor’s son who served 18 years in the Senate.
Of Biles, Biden joked, “Today, she adds to her medal count of 32.”
Other honorees included Sister Simone Campbell, former director of Network, a Catholic social justice organization, who was instrumental in getting the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. Biden once joined her “Nuns on the Bus” tour.
“Sister Simone Campbell is a gift from God,” Biden said Thursday, taking the occasion to recall his meeting with Pope Benedict, who asked Biden for some advice. “It’d be presumptuous of me to give you advice, Your Holiness,” Biden recalled saying.
When the pope pressed further, Biden said he offered “one piece of advice … I’d go easy on the nuns. They’re more popular than you are.’” He joked, “The fact that six weeks later he retired, I don’t know if that had anything to do with it.”
The president also recognized Washington, an actor, director and producer who has served as national spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for more than 25 years. Biden said Washington was unable to attend the event and would receive his award at a later date; a White House official later said Washington’s absence was due to a “covid result.”
“Denzel Washington, one of our greatest actors in American history. Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Tony Awards, wide acclaim and admiration from audiences and peers around the world,” Biden said.
Biden also praised Megan Rapinoe, a member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team since 2006 who has won one Olympic gold medal and two World Cup championships. She is also captain of OL Reign, a Seattle-based pro…