- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2019

President Trump on Thursday awarded the Medal of Freedom to auto racing mogul Roger Penske, the fourth sports legend he’s bestowed the honor to since late August.

Mr. Penske, a former race car driver, received the nation’s highest civilian honor after turning IndyCar fame into an automotive business empire. He’s also championed Detroit’s economic revival.

“This guy keeps winning,” Mr. Trump said in an Oval Office ceremony attended by Vice President Mike Pence and the Penske family, including Mr. Penske’s wife of 46 years, Kathy.

Mr. Trump has favored these one-on-one medal ceremonies of late, instead of the galas that President Obama and others held to distribute awards en masse.

It’s perhaps one of the reasons Mr. Trump has handed out only 14 of the medals during his three years in office, compared to the whopping 115 President Obama handed out in his two terms.

Mr. Trump also got a late start, failing to award a Medal of Freedom until 20 months into his presidency. He seems to be making up for lost time amid a storm of impeachment hearings and other scandals du jour, honoring a pair of NBA legends, New York Yankees great Mariano Rivera, and former Attorney General Edwin Meese in recent weeks.

But Mr. Trump would have to sustain a busy schedule of award ceremonies to match the tally of other recent presidents.

Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each handed out more than 80 medals during their eight years in office, putting them in line with Ronald Reagan’s 86 over two terms.

Mr. Trump, however, is behind the pace of one-term presidents such as George H.W. Bush (37 medals) and Jimmy Carter (34).

The White House hasn’t said whether Mr. Trump wants to catch up with his predecessors.

The president has wide discretion in selecting recipients of the medal, established by President John. F. Kennedy in 1963 to recognize those who make “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said the Office of the Staff Secretary coordinates decisions around presidential medals, like in past administrations.

“In addition to receiving recommendations from the public and applicable presidential advisory bodies, the staff secretary has solicited nominees from the Cabinet and White House senior staff. These nominees are then vetted for presentation to the president,” he said.

Mr. Penske, 82, has made his mark in multiple industries. He was a famous racer in the 1950s and 1960s before operating IndyCar teams and launching the Penske Corporation, a retail automotive, trucking, racing and manufacturing company.

Mr. Trump marveled at his sprawling career, saying he associates Mr. Penske with his IndyCar management and business career.

“You know I didn’t know you were that great of a driver,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Penske. “What do I know?”

Mr. Trump has an affinity for current and former athletes — he’s doled out more than half of his medals to those who scurried around a field, court or a racetrack.

Mr. Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom to a dozen athletes during his two terms, plus 12 politicians and 13 musicians, including Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. He also honored “Hollywood types,” including Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Robert de Niro.

Political activists made up Mr. Obama’s biggest category — percentage-wise — with 16 recipients.

Unsurprisingly, presidents tend to favor their political kin for the honor.

Mr. Obama awarded his last medal to his vice president, Joseph R. Biden, while Mr. Trump has honored conservative stalwarts such as former Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, GOP super-donor Miriam Adelson, former Attorney General Edwin Meese — who served under President Ronald Reagan — and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Mr. Penske, who said it was hard to believe he was standing in the Oval Office, thanked the people who helped him along the way.

“If they hadn’t done their work I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

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