President Biden announced he will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 17 individuals including ex-lawmaker and gun control activist Gabby Giffords, the late Sen. John McCain, Trump critic Khizr Khan, Olympic athlete Simone Biles and Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington.
Ms. Giffords, a former House lawmaker from Arizona, founded a gun-violence prevention group after surviving an assassination attempt in 2011.
Mr. Khan is the Gold Star father who famously criticized then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016 at the Democratic National Convention, in a speech lambasting Mr. Trump’s comments about Muslim Americans. In response, Mr. Trump attacked the Khan family, drawing criticism from some supporters and other Republicans, including McCain.
Among the other recipients are the late Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple; Sister Simone Campbell, a Catholic nun who advocates for economic justice; Sandra Lindsay, the first American to receive the COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials, U.S. women’s soccer legend Megan Rapinoe and former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who advocated for campaign finance reform.
Mr. Biden also will posthumously award the medal to the late AFL-CIO director Richard Trumka.
The awards will be bestowed on Thursday at the White House.
“These 17 Americans demonstrate the power of possibilities and embody the soul of the nation — hard work, perseverance, and faith,” the White House said in a statement Friday. “They have overcome significant obstacles to achieve impressive accomplishments in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to advocating for the most vulnerable among us, and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities — and across the world — while blazing trails for generations to come.”
The award, established 50 years ago by President John F. Kennedy, is bestowed to individuals “who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security of national interests to the United States, to world peace, or to culture or other significant public or private endeavors.”
More than 500 celebrities, sports heroes, musicians, politicians, activists and others have received the award. There are no rules regarding the selection, and recipients are usually picked by the president. Mr. Biden himself received the honor as vice president in January 2017 when then-President Barack Obama surprised him with the Medal of Freedom at the ceremony, days before they left office.
Mr. Trump was often criticized for rewarding conservatives and a donor, who contributed at least $87 million to Republican candidates during the 2018 midterms. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, former Republican Rep. Devin Nunes and Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, all received the award from Mr. Trump.
He also honored Miriam Adelson, the wife of billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The Adelsons have donated millions to Republican causes over the years.