By Victoria Eavis
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — Retired U.S. Sen. Al Simpson received the nation’s highest civilian honor Thursday: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ninety-year-old Simpson is a pillar of Wyoming politics. He served in the U.S Senate for 18 years and in leadership for 10 of those. Before moving to Congress, he represented Park County in the Wyoming state house.
In a ceremony Thursday at the White House, President Joe Biden lauded Simpson for his principles and bipartisanship. Simpson, Biden told the audience at the medal ceremony, was “one of the most decent, stand up, genuine guys that I’ve ever served with, and I served with a lot of senators.”
“We need more of your spirit back in the United States Senate, on both sides of the aisle,” the president said.
As Biden finished draping and clasping the medal over the former senator’s neck, Simpson looked up and smiled out at the crowd.
“He’s a great hugger,” Simpson said.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., attended Thursday’s ceremony.
“Senator Al Simpson is a principled leader, and his service to Wyoming and our nation is unmatched,” she said in a tweet. “He is most deserving of this honor, and I am honored to call him friend.”
Simpson has endorsed Cheney in her heated House race against Harriet Hageman, and he has not been shy about opposition to former president Donald Trump.
Even before Cheney’s 2022 reelection campaign heated up, Simpson was outspoken about the state of politics. He was a part of a bipartisan group of 44 former U.S. senators who warned in an op-ed that the country is “entering a dangerous period” with challenges to “the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security.”
That op-ed came on the heels of the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and the beginning of the 2019 investigations into Trump and his administration by the House.
Following his time in office, Simpson taught politics and co-chaired a commission under President Barack Obama to draw up recommendations on how to cut the national debt, which he argued is placing an unsustainable burden on the country’s younger generations.
“During his public service, he has been a prominent advocate on issues including campaign finance reform, responsible governance, and marriage equality,” the White House said in a statement.
But the former senator also has his detractors, who cite his legacy of being aggressively anti-Social Security and his attacks on Anita Hill during Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings.
Simpson grew up in the Cody area. He was known for getting in trouble as a youth and later advocated for juvenile justice reforms in Wyoming based on that experience.
Simpson received his bachelors and law degrees from the University of Wyoming.
“We all know him as a stalwart supporter of the University of Wyoming who has made such a difference for his beloved alma mater over many decades while he has served our state and nation as a legislator and statesman,” UW President Ed Seidel said in a statement. “It’s with a great sense of pride that we now celebrate President Biden’s recognition of Sen. Simpson for his exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values and security of the United States, world peace and other significant societal, public and private endeavors. He’s a gem of Wyoming and UW, and we join in saluting him on this special day.”
Biden awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom to 17 people on Thursday. Simpson was one of three former politicians to receive the award.
Other recipients included the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who, after being severely wounded in a 2011 shooting, founded a nonprofit to combat gun violence.