President Trump on Saturday named seven individuals who will receive the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, next week — a list that includes a GOP mega-donor.
The awardees are retiring Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), sports legendaries Babe Ruth and Roger Staubach, musician Elvis Presley, the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, former Minnesota Supreme Court justice Alan C. Page, and Miriam Adelson, a physician and wife of Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate.
In its news release, the White House cited Adelson’s research in narcotic addiction, her founding of two centers to fight substance abuse and her support of Jewish organizations. The release does not mention that the Adelsons also contributed at least $87 million to GOP candidates in the 2018 midterms. This included $25 million given to the Senate Leadership Fund, a Super PAC aimed at supporting and electing GOP candidates into the House of Representatives.
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 of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” according to a release by the White House. Past awardees have included a mix of more than 500 celebrities, musicians, politicians and philanthropists.
Adelson’s selection, however, raised some questions about her qualifications for the award and also whether the White House was rewarding a donor.
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about criticism of Adelson’s selection.
Hatch, meanwhile, who announced he plans to retire at the end of this year, is the longest-serving Republican senator in the history of the United States, having been a chamber member since 1977. He has been the chairman of several key committees, including the Judiciary and Finance committees, and is currently the president pro tempore of the Senate, making him third in line of succession to the presidency.
Presley was a cultural icon of the 20th century, a star of both music and film. Though known as the “King of Rock and Roll,” he was singer whose repertoire included blues, country, pop and gospel. The best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music, he received multiple accolades, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He died in 1977.
Ruth, known as “The Sultan of Swat,” held the Major League Baseball’s home run record, 714, until Hank Aaron surpassed it in 1974. He was one of the first five inductees in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The New York Yankees legend died in 1948.
Staubach was an all-star quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, leading the NFL team to the Super Bowl five times, while winning two. Before going pro, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy, where he won the Heisman Trophy, and did a tour of duty in the Vietnam War. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Page, who also played in the NFL, was the first black Supreme Court justice in Minnesota. A member of the Minnesota Viking’s “Purple People Eaters,” Page is considered one of the best defensive linemen to play the game, and is a member of both the pro and college football halls of fame. A graduate of the University of Minnesota law school, Page was elected to the state’s highest court in 1992. He retired in 2015.
Scalia served on the nation’s highest court from 1986 until his death in 2016. A staunch conservative, Scalia advocated originalism in interpreting the Constitution and opposed the right to abortion and same sex marriage. He is well-remembered for his strongly-worded minority opinion in several key court decisions.
This is not the first time a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient sparked controversy. There are no explicit rules regarding the selection process, and the President ultimately makes the final call, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin reported. Barack Obama, for example, gave the award to Mary Robinson, a former Irish president who advocated for human and women’s rights — which upset some U.S. Jewish leaders who felt she’d been too critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
The medals will be awarded on Nov. 16.