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‘I am the president, he is the Boss’: Obama pays tribute to, jokes with Medal of Freedom recipients

November 22, 2016 at 6:15 PM EST
At the White House, President Obama handed out the Medal of Freedom to twenty-one notable American figures, from Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Bill and Melinda Gates, Diana Ross, Michael Jordan, Vin Scully, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Redford, and many others.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: Twenty-one people received the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year, from artists and entertainers, to philanthropists and scientists.

President Obama handed out the medals at the White House this afternoon.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Extraordinary Americans who have lifted our spirits, strengthened our union, pushed us towards progress.

These two have donated more money to charitable causes than anyone ever.

Many years ago, Melinda’s mom told her an old saying: To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is success.

By this and just about any other measure, few in human history have been more successful than these two impatient optimists.

(APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Ellen DeGeneres has a way of making you laugh about some thing, rather than at someone, except when I danced on her show. She laughed at me.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But that’s OK.

It’s easy to forget now, when we have come so far, where now marriage is equal under the law, just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, every journalist in the room, every media knows the phrase Newt Minow coined: the vast wasteland.

But the two words Newt prefers we remember from his speech to the nation’s broadcasters are these: public interest. That’s been the heartbeat of his life’s work.

(APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The game of baseball has a handful of signature sounds. You hear the crack of the bat. You have got the crowd singing in the seventh inning stretch. And you have got the voice of Vin Scully.

When he heard about this honor, Vin asked, with characteristic humility, “Are you sure? I’m just an old baseball announcer.”

(LAUGHTER)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And we had to inform him that, to Americans of all ages, you are an old friend.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Here’s how great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was; 1967, he had spent a year dominating college basketball. The NCAA bans the dunk.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They didn’t say it was about Kareem, but it was about Kareem.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There’s a reason you call somebody the Michael Jordan of — Michael Jordan of neurosurgery, or the Michael Jordan of rabbis, or the Michael Jordan of outrigger canoeing.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Because Michael Jordan is the Michael Jordan of greatness.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am the president. He is the Boss.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And pushing 70, he is still laying down four-hour live sets. If you have not been at them, he is working, fire-breathing rock ‘n’ roll.

So, I thought twice about giving him a medal named for freedom, because we hope he remains, in his words, a prisoner of rock ‘n’ roll for years to come.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF: What a star-studded group.

The Medal of Freedom winners marked the occasion with a star-studded mannequin challenge. You can watch that on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

And that’s the “NewsHour” for tonight. I’m Judy Woodruff.

Join us online and again here tomorrow evening. For all of us at the “PBS NewsHour,” thank you, and good night.

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