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Biden to award Medal of Freedom to Simone Biles, John McCain and others

WASHINGTON — President Biden announced Friday that he will present the Presidential Medal of Freedom next week to 17 world leaders in politics, civil rights, sports, business, education and entertainment, including Olympic gymnast Simone Biles. , actor Denzel Washington and the first American to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

The winners, the first of his presidency, include a variety of figures who broke barriers familiar to many Americans, as well as prominent political veterans Biden has met over the years. The list includes three posthumous award winners: Steve Jobs, the pioneering co-founder of Apple; John McCain, the veteran Republican senator and two-time presidential candidate; and Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and Democratic power broker.

“These 17 Americans demonstrate the power of possibility and embody the soul of the nation: hard work, perseverance and faith,” a White House statement said. “They have overcome significant obstacles to impressive achievements in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to defending the most vulnerable among us, and acted bravely to drive change in their communities, and around the world, while blazing trails for generations to come. .”

The president will honor the recipients at the White House on Thursday. The medal is the nation’s highest civilian award, first established in its current form by President John F. Kennedy and intended to honor “any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution” to national security, peace world or “cultural or other important public or private companies,” as the original executive order said.

Over the years, presidents have typically used it to honor political allies, celebrities, and Americans with stories that highlight a particular point that could be helpful to the White House right now. On occasion, presidents have used such medals to walk down the aisle, as Biden is trying to do by honoring McCain, his longtime colleague and friend from his days in the Senate.

The relationship between the two became strained in 2008 when they were both on their respective party lists, Mr. McCain as the Republican presidential candidate and Mr. Biden as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate. Mr. Biden attacked Mr. McCain at the time as an “angry man” who was taking “the low road to the highest office in the country”. But the two later reconciled, and Biden comforted McCain’s family when the Republican senator died of brain cancer in 2018.

Biden’s list includes another prominent former Republican senator, Alan Simpson of Wyoming, a popular moderate prankster who worked the aisle even as he wowed politicians and journalists with his sharp wit. Also honoring will be former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who was critically injured during a mass shooting and became a leading voice for gun control.

The president singled out several well-known civil rights leaders, including Diane Nash, founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a close ally of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Fred Gray, attorney for Dr. King, Rosa Parks and others and later one of the first black members of the Alabama Legislature since Reconstruction; and Raúl Yzaguirre, who led the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy organization, for 30 years.

In addition to Ms. Biles, the most decorated American gymnast in history with 32 Olympic and world medals, Megan Rapinoe, another Olympian and two-time women’s world champion, will receive a medal. Ms. Biles has become a vocal advocate for mental health, foster children, and sexual assault victims, while Ms. Rapinoe has spoken out for gender pay equity, racial justice, and rights. homosexual rights.

Mr. Biden highlighted others who have overcome obstacles, such as Brig. General Wilma L. Vaught, one of the first women to serve as a general in the US Army; and Julieta García, former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville and the first Hispanic woman to lead an American university. He will honor Sandra Lindsay, a New York critical care nurse who was the first American to be vaccinated against the coronavirus outside of clinical trials.

Other recipients include Sister Simone Campbell, a leading Catholic advocate for social justice; the Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, former vicar general of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, who has advised several presidents; and Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father of a soldier killed in Iraq whose criticism of Donald J. Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign made him a hero to the Democrats.

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