Remarks by President Biden, First Lady Biden, Former President Obama, and Former First Lady Obama at the Unveiling of the Obama White House Portraits | Eastern North Carolina Now | PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.) Thank you all very much. Please. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Please.

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East Room  •  Washington D.C.  •  September 7, 2022  •  1:55 P.M. EDT


    become President of the United States than being at your side for eight years, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

    You know, no matter what the issue was, no matter how difficult, no matter what it was about, doing it - you never did it just the easy way - what the easy way out was. It was never about doing it that way. It was always about doing what was right, literally.

    You know, just go down the list of historic presidencies. He never gave up on the simple truth that healthcare was a right for all Americans. When so many were telling him - including me, at one point - (laughter) - "Take the compromise. Take the compromise" - we weren't sure we could get anything done on ACA - "Think about the compromise" - you - you refused. You went big. And now, the Affordable Care Act is there permanently, and it's even being improved on. (Applause.)

    Because I remember what you told me. You said, "How can I look those people in the eye and leave anybody behind?" You weren't about to do that.

    You know, his Recovery Act brought America back from a Great Recession.

    The auto rescue protected an iconic industry that represents the nation's heart and soul. And there were a whole lot of people, some maybe even in this room, that were telling you we should let the industry go bankrupt; we should let it go. But you wouldn't. You persisted. You insisted. And I remember our conversations. And I'm proud - I'm proud we stood together and wouldn't let that happen.

    You bet on the American worker. You believed in the American worker.

    Even though he knew it would be controversial, you stood up for hundreds of thousands of DREAMers - DREAMers who have only known America as their home. It always boggles my mind that others can't understand that a three-year-old kid is going to say, "No, Mom, leave me on the side of the Rio Grande. You go ahead and go." I'm serious. You - so they could stay and contribute. And they've contributed incredibly their talents. And it's a great generation they represent.

    I can go on and defend what - all that you've done: expanding civil rights, issuing the clarion call on the climate crisis. Helped us find that Amazing Grace - that Amazing Grace - even in darkness.

    In countless hours, over countless meetings, under intense pressure, we always knew Barack Obama - we always knew what you'd do, you - what you thought was right, even if it was going to cost you politically.

    You know, we trusted him - all of you in this room. We believed in him. We counted on him. And I still do. And I still do. (Applause.)

    And, folks, Mr. President - that's why the country elected you twice. And it's why you'll be considered one of the most consequential Presidents in our history, along with one of the most consequential First Ladies.

    You know, Michelle, he knows, we all know: He couldn't have done it without you. (Applause.) I know I couldn't. (Laughs.)

    In fact, during our week- - we had lunch once a week every week come hell or highwater. And everybody wondered all those important things we talked about. Probably 40 percent of the time, we talked about family. We most talked about our girls and my grandchildren and my children.

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    You embody dignity beyond measure, Michelle. And together, you and Barack made history. You both generated hope for millions of people who were left behind for so long. And it matters. You both did it with such grace and such class.

    You know, you dreamed big and secured lasting wins for the American people, helping lift their burden with the blessing of hope. It was so underestimated - the notion of just having hope.

    This is a gift to the Obama presidency, to the country, and to history. And it's a gift I felt personally. And as we used to say in the Senate, Mr. President, excuse a point of personal privilege - you were always there. I remember - I remember how you were with me when my - when our son was passing, and I remember the eulogy you gave in his behalf. You'll never fully understand just how much it meant to Jill and me and the entire family.

    I always remember that night we accepted the nomination in Denver. My granddaughter, Finnegan, who's a great friend of your daughters, a- - called and came up to the room - our room - and said, "Pop, can we - can we move the beds out of my room?"

    And I said, "Why do you want move the beds out of your room?" And she said, "Well, so..." - her two sisters and Malia and Sasha - "...we could all get sleeping bags and lie on the floor and sleep together and watch the convention on the floor." That image of them all together will stay with me forever. And I think it melded our families in ways that it's hard for other people to understand.

    For eight years, we grew to be family for each other, through our highs and our lows. A family from different backgrounds brought together by a shared value set.

    And all the things that the families have done together is - I imagine there may have been other relationships like this - President and Vice President - but I can't think of - none comes to mind.

    Jill and I have been waiting to host events at the White House for a long time, coming out of the pandemic. And it's fitting - fitting that we can do that now by unveiling the portraits of two dear friends and two great Americans who are still held very tightly in the hearts of the American people - portraits that are going to hang on the walls of this sacred place, the People's House, forever; and a reminder of all here and now, for those to come to power, that hope and change matters.

    Barack and Michelle, it's my honor to invite you both to the stage for the unveiling of your official portraits. Come on up. (Applause.)

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Are we ready? Yes? (Laughter.) Okay. There we go.

    (The portraits are unveiled.) (Applause.)

    Thank you so much. Thank you, everybody. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you! Thank you so much.

    Please, everybody have a seat. Have a seat. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Sit down, everybody. Thank you very much.

    It is great to be back. President and Dr. Biden, Vice President Harris and Second Gentleman Emhoff, thank you so much for your hospitality. Thanks for letting us invite a few friends to the White House. (Laughter.) We will try not to tear up the place. (Laughter.)

    Someone - (laughter) - someone once said that if you're looking for a friend in Washington, get a dog. (Laughter.) Our family was lucky enough to have two wonderful dogs. But I was even luckier to have a chance to spend eight years working day and night with a man who became a true partner and a true friend.

    Joe, it is now America's good fortune to have you as President. You have guided us through some perilous times. You've built on and gone beyond the work we all did together to expand healthcare, to fight climate change, to advance social justice, and to promote economic fairness.

    Thanks to your decency and thanks to your strength - maybe most of all thanks to your faith in our democracy and the American people - the country is better off than when you took office, and we should all be deeply grateful for that. So, thank you so much. (Applause.)

    To all the former Obama-Biden staffers who are here in person, some of you are watching at home, thank you for being a part of this. When people ask me what I miss most about the White House years, it is not Air Force One that I talk about. Although, I miss Air Force One. (Laughter.) It is the chance that I had to stand shoulder to shoulder with all of you; to have a chance to witness so many talented, selfless, idealistic, good people working tirelessly every day to make the world better.

    And for eight years, and even longer for some of you, I drew on your energy and your dedication and your goodness. You inspired me, and I never wanted to disappoint you. And I tried to reflect the same heart and character that you displayed every day. Even during the toughest times, it was all of you that kept me going. So, it's good to be back to have a chance to see all of you and to, once again, say thank you.

    Now, as much as I miss our work together, what's been a special joy is to see what's happened since because so many of you are doing amazing things, whether it's in government, in the private sector, in academia, or non-profits.

    And I'm especially glad to see so many of you serving President Biden as well as you served me - although now some of you who, let's face it, you were kids back then, are now in charge and running the show - (laughter) - which is a little shocking - (laughter) - and may also explain some of the grey hairs I'm seeing on some of you. (Laughter.)

    But it validates what I had always hoped, which was that our time together would only be the beginning of incredibly impactful careers.

    And some of you who've I've had a chance to stay in touch with, I'm thrilled to see that you've started families of your own. I am a little disappointed that I haven't heard of anyone naming a kid "Barack" yet.

    FIRST LADY OBAMA: Or Michelle.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Or Michelle. (Laughter.) But there is still time. (Laughter.)

    Finally, I want to say a special thanks to the White House staff. We had a chance to see them all beforehand. (Applause.) You took incredible care of our family for eight years. And along the way, you became a part of it. And we have not ever forgotten the kindness that you showed us.

    Now, when Michelle and I had our portraits unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery a few years back, I said that, as far as I could tell, no one in my family tree had ever sat for a portrait before. I certainly had not. And now, all of a sudden, we've done it twice.

    But these portraits today have a special significance, because, as Joe mentioned, they will hang in the White House alongside portraits of other Presidents and First Ladies dating back to George and Martha. So, it was important to find the right people to paint them.

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    I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle - her grace, her intelligence, and the fact that she's fine. (Laughter and applause.) I'm just saying. She is. Her portrait is stunning.

    And I want to thank Robert McCurdy for taking on a much more difficult subject - (laughter) - and doing a fantastic job with mine. (Applause.)

    Robert is known for his paintings of public figures - Toni Morrison, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali. But what I love about Robert's work is that he paints people exactly the way they are, for better or worse. (Laughter.) He captures every wrinkle on your face, every crease in your shirt. (Laughter.)

    You'll note that he refused to hide any of my grey hairs. (Laughter.) Refused my request to make my ears smaller. (Laughter.)

    He also talked me out of wearing a tan suit, by the way. (Laughter and applause.) So - (laughs). (Laughter.)

    His work is so precise that, at first glance, it looks like a photograph. And Robert also paints his subjects looking straight ahead, so it feels like you're face-to-face, forming a connection.

    And that appealed to me, in part because Presidents so often get airbrushed. They even take on a mythical status, especially after you've gone and people forget all the stuff they didn't like about you. (Laughter.)

    But what you realize when you're sitting behind that desk, and what I want people to remember about Michelle and me, is that Presidents and First Ladies are human beings like everyone else. We have our gifts. We have our flaws. You've all experienced mine. We have good days and bad days. We feel the same joy and sadness, frustration and hope.

    And while it takes a certain amount of self-confidence to be President, there are nights where we lie awake wondering if this or that decision was the right one.

    I've always described the presidency as a relay race. You take the baton from someone, you run your leg as hard and as well as you can, and then you hand it off to someone else, knowing that your work will be incomplete. The portraits hanging in the White House chronicle the runners in that race - each of us tasked with trying to bring the country we love closer to its highest aspirations.

    And when future generations walk these halls and look up at these portraits, I hope they get a better, honest sense of who Michelle and I were. And I hope they leave with a deeper understanding that if we could make it here, maybe they can too; they can do remarkable things too.

    Now, it is my pleasure to introduce someone who needs no introduction. (Laughter.) Michelle was the best thing about living in the White House. And let me tell you, the pastry chefs here deliver delicious pies on request - (laughter) - so that is saying something. (Laughter.)

    I could not ask for a better life partner, and in my humble opinion, America could not have asked for a better First Lady.

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    Please give it up for Michelle Obama. (Applause.)

    FIRST LADY OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you, guys. Okay, thank you, everybody.
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