Wyoming’s Al Simpson Receives ‘Presidential Medal Of Freedom’ From Biden

Former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson received a Presidential Medal of Freedom award from President Joe Biden on Thursday afternoon in commemoration of his work in Congress.

Leo Wolfson

July 07, 20224 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson received his Presidential Medal of Freedom award from President Joe Biden on Thursday afternoon in commemoration of his work in Congress.

Biden called Simpson “the real deal” and complimented his ability to work in a bipartisan manner in Congress and do what was best, despite outside pressures and political polarization stating that his “conscience was his guide.”

“He never allowed his party or state or anything get in the way of the way he felt was right,” Biden said. “He believed in forging real relationships even with people on the other side of the aisle and proving we can do anything when we work together as the United States of America. 

It matters, it matters, it matters,” Biden continued. “We need more of your spirit back in the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle.”

Simpson and Biden served together for 18 years in the Senate, spending seven years together on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biden said Simpson was one of the “finest men he’s ever worked with.”

“He never takes himself too seriously, nor takes me seriously,” Biden said.

They both oversaw the 1991 confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Simpson voted for the confirmation of Thomas, while Biden voted against it.

“At his core, he’s always believed in the common good and what’s best for the nation,” Biden said. “We didn’t agree on everything, although we agreed on a whole heck of a lot.”

Simpson was commended for his work, which included supporting abortion and civil rights and fighting for campaign finance reform.

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who attended the ceremony, also praised Simpson for his work.

“Senator Al Simpson is a principled leader and his service to Wyoming and our nation is unmatched,” Cheney said in a Thursday tweet. “He is most deserving of this honor and I am honored to call him friend.”

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, in a news release Thursday, complemented Simpson for receiving the award.

“Throughout his life, Al has boldly fought to uphold the values and ideals of our nation,” Barrasso said. “Whether he was serving in the United States Army, the Wyoming House of Representatives or in the United States Senate, his commitment and contributions were evident. It’s fitting that Al receives the highest honor an American civilian can get for his service to our country.”

Simpson was one of the last of 17 medal recipients brought on stage during the opening ceremonies and was placed closest to Biden’s lectern. He wore a gold Cowboy Joe lapel pin on his dark blue suit.

When Biden placed the medal around his neck, Simpson, who stands about 7 inches taller than Biden, had to crouch down so the president could reach him. Simpson made an inaudible joke, drawing some laughter from the audience, 

Simpson, a Cody native and resident, served as a U.S. senator for 18 years, a timespan that included leadership positions as Senate majority and minority whip. He also was the co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in 2010. 

“It’s a very powerful and moving thing for me,” he said in a June Cowboy State Daily interview. “It’s something that’s cherished.”

Simpson was one of 17 Americans to receive the award in the ceremony that was held at the White House in Washington, D.C. 

Also receiving the award were former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, actor Denzel Washington and soccer star Megan Rapinoe. The late U.S. Sen. John McCain and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs received awards posthumously. 

Thursday’s recipients were the first people to be graced with the award since Biden took office. Obama issued the award to 132 people while former President Donald Trump only gave it to 24.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter