Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden on Friday honored 19 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom – a diverse list that includes some high-profile Biden political allies, celebrities, civil rights leaders and even one of his former political rivals-turned-financial backer.

The list included two of Biden’s core allies in the House of Representatives: former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn.

Pelosi made history in 2007 when she became the first woman to serve as speaker of the House of Representatives and led Democratic opposition to former President Donald Trump when she regained that role in 2019. She was also a key player in getting much of Biden’s signature legislation through Congress during the first two years of the president’s administration.

“On January 6,” Biden said at the ceremony on Friday, “Nancy stood in the breach and defended democracy. With her husband, Paul, they stood up to extremism with absolute courage, physical courage.”

He added: “I predict … history will remember you, Nancy, as the greatest speaker of the House of Representatives.”

Clyburn has been credited with coalescing his state’s Black vote to support Biden in the 2020 primaries. The win in South Carolina sparked Biden’s momentum toward winning the Democratic nomination and eventually the presidency. Clyburn has since served as a key ally for the president in Congress and on the campaign.

“I can say this without fear of contradiction,” Biden said Friday. “I would not be standing here as president making these awards were it not for Jim.”

The list also included former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination that Biden would eventually clinch. Bloomberg immediately endorsed Biden after dropping out and pledged $100 million to help Biden’s election efforts in Florida.

Also honored was actress Michelle Yeoh – the first woman of Asian descent to win the Academy Award for Best Actress.

The medal is presented to people “who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors,” according to a White House statement. Biden himself is a recipient, being presented with the medal by then-President Barack Obama in the closing days of his administration.

The recipients who Biden honored on Friday include many current and former public officials, including former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a Republican who was the first woman to represent North Carolina in the Senate and the widow of the late Sen. Bob Dole.

Biden also honored former Vice President Al Gore – who has been a prominent activist for fighting climate change since leaving public office – and former Secretary of State John Kerry, who served in Biden’s administration as a climate envoy and as a Massachusetts senator during his time in public service.

Referencing Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election after winning the popular vote, Biden said Gore “accepted the outcome of the disputed presidential election for the sake of unity and trust in our institutions.”

“That to me was amazing, what you did, Al,” Biden said, making a not-so-subtle reference to former President Donald Trump’s refusal to do the same 20 years later. “And I won’t go into that,” the president added.

After introducing Kerry, who lost the 2004 election to Bush, Biden said he believed “the last two men I introduced should have been standing up here at this podium.”

Biden also presented the award to three posthumous recipients, including Medgar Evers, who served in World War II and then led the fight against segregation before being assassinated in 1963; Frank Lautenberg, who was New Jersey’s longest serving senator and is known for his environmental work, and Jim Thorpe, a legendary star in multiple sports in the early part of the 20th century who was also the first Native American to win a gold Olympic medal.

Recipients also included many involved in the fight for civil rights, including activist and lawyer Clarence B. Jones, who helped draft Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech; Opal Lee, an educator and activist who helped make Juneteenth become a federal holiday; and Judy Shepard, who founded an organization named after her son, Matthew, who was murdered in one of the country’s most notorious anti-gay hate crimes.

Other recipients included: Delaware astronomer Jane Rigby, the first Hispanic woman in space Ellen Ochoa, the most decorated female swimmer in history Katie Ledecky, journalist and legendary television talk show host Phil Donahue, Jesuit Catholic priest Greg Boyle, and president of the United Farm Workers Teresa Romero.

“President Biden often says there is nothing beyond our capacity when we act together. These nineteen Americans built teams, coalitions, movements, organizations, and businesses that shaped America for the better. They are the pinnacle of leadership in their fields,” the White House said in the statement.

Biden last awarded a large tranche of medals in 2022 to 17 people – a list that similarly contained a mix of athletes, activists and politicians. Recipients that year included gymnast Simone Biles, the late Sen. John McCain and Gabby Giffords, a former congresswoman who became a gun-control advocate after she was seriously injured in a 2011 assassination attempt.

(Copyright (c) 2024 CNN. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox