President Obama said Wednesday that he did not have the ability to revoke Bill Cosby’s Presidential Medal of Freedom in the wake of more than two dozen accusations of sexual misconduct against the comedian.
“There is no precedent for revoking the medal,” he said, during a press conference in the East Room. “We don’t have the mechanism.”
He declined to comment on the specifics of the Cosby allegations, citing the ongoing civil cases against the entertainer and the possibility of criminal charges. But he did take the opportunity to condemn the sort of behavior that Cosby has been accused of perpetrating.
“If you give a woman or a man for that matter, without his or her knowledge, a drug and then have sex with that person without consent—that’s rape,” he said. “Any civilized country should have no tolerance for rape.”
The presidential medal of freedom was given to Cosby in 2002 by President George W. Bush, years before a civil case filed against Cosby for sexual misconduct triggered a wave of allegations.
Since then Cosby has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct, including several cases of drugging and raping women over several decades. This summer it was revealed that Cosby had admitted in a once-sealed court deposition that he had obtained quaaludes, a prescription drug, with the intent of giving them to women with whom he hoped to have sex.
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Claire McCaskill of Missouri have supported a petition effort calling on Obama to revoke the medal. “She supports this group’s effort because we need to set a clear example that sexual assault will not be tolerated in this country, and someone who admitted to using drugs for sex no longer deserves the nation’s highest honor,” said Glen Caplin, a spokesman for Gillibrand, in a statement to Politico.