Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson receives Presidential Medal of Freedom at White House

President Biden described his longtime Senate colleague as “one of the most decent, stand-up, genuine guys I ever served with”

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jul 08, 2022

Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), along with 16 individuals representing various professions, receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor at the White House Thursday. (Wyoming Truth photo courtesy of Jacob Gardenswartz)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

WASHINGTON — In a ceremony at the White House on Thursday, President Joe Biden bestowed former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), 90, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Simpson, who represented Wyoming in the Senate for nearly two decades, was one of 17 individuals to receive the prestigious award. Other recipients included Olympians Simone Biles and Megan Rapinoe; civil rights activists Fred Gray, Dianne Nash and Raúl Yzaguirre; gun rights champion and former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.); and actor Denzel Washington (who was not present due to a positive Covid-19 diagnosis), among others. Posthumous medals were awarded to former U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and longtime AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.

Simpson is “one of the most decent, stand-up, genuine guys I ever served with,” said President Joe Biden, who served with him in the Senate for nearly two decades. (Wyoming Truth photo courtesy of Jacob Gardenswartz)

“The idea of America, a cause of freedom, shines like the sun to light up the future of our world,” Biden said in remarks from the East Room. “That’s the soul of our nation. That’s who we are as Americans. And that’s who we see, an extraordinary group of Americans up here on this stage.”

Once dubbed “the most interesting man in Wyoming,” Simpson worked alongside Biden in the Senate for all of the 18 years he served in Washington. Though the two came from opposing parties and different parts of the country, Biden described Simpson as “one of the most decent, stand-up, genuine guys I’ve ever served with.”

Their long-standing relationship was evident even in the few interactions they shared on stage. “One of the great things about Alan is that he never takes himself too seriously, nor takes me seriously,” Biden joked.

As he receives the medal, Simpson jokes that the president is “a great hugger.” (Wyoming Truth photo courtesy of Jacob Gardenswartz)

At six feet and seven inches tall, Simpson towered above Biden as the president laid the medal on his chest, despite Simpson hunching down over his walker. “He’s a great hugger,” Simpson quipped as Biden’s arms straddled his neck.

Simpson was the only living Republican politician to receive the medal in Biden’s first slate of honorees, and the decision to grant him that honor earned the Democratic president some pushback. But Biden emphasized the spirit of bipartisanship in his remarks, noting that Simpson “never allowed his party or his state or anything to get in the way of what was right.”

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

While in office, Simpson was known as a moderate conservative; he supported same-sex marriage and abortion rights, a position which ultimately got him ousted from GOP leadership. Simpson has also been a longtime advocate of campaign finance reform, and has called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which enabled corporations and outside groups to spend unlimited funds on elections.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) was among those in attendance at the White House ceremony on Thursday. (Wyoming Truth photo courtesy of Jacob Gardenswartz)

Simpson retired from the Senate in 1997, though he re-entered public service  in 2010 when he was appointed co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform by President Barack Obama. In that role, he helped develop a proposal to lower the federal deficit by $4 trillion with a combination of cuts to entitlement programs, such as Social Security, and tax increases. Ultimately, the bipartisan commission was unable to secure the votes necessary to put the plan into action.

More recently, Simpson waded back into Wyoming politics when he endorsed Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who is facing a tough primary battle for the state’s sole House seat. Appearing in an ad for her alongside several other prominent Wyoming politicians, Simpson encouraged voters to “join me in voting for Liz Cheney on August 16.”

Cheney was present at Thursday’s ceremony at the White House, nodding and clapping enthusiastically as the president talked up one of the Cowboy State’s most beloved figures.

Like Cheney, Simpson has also been a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump. In a recent interview with NBC, Simpson called Trump a “spoiled brat” and “at the root” of the “Machiavellian distortion of whatever this country stands for.”

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