Trump presents Medal of Freedom to seven honorees

President Trump awards Medal of Freedom

President Trump awarded seven people the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Friday.

Miriam Adelson is among seven people Mr. Trump is recognizing with the medal, the highest honor America can give a civilian. She is a doctor, philanthropist and humanitarian, but is perhaps best known as the wife of Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate considered one of the nation's most powerful Republican donors. 

The other recipients include retiring Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, one of the longest-serving senators in U.S. history; Alan Page, who was elected to the Minnesota Supreme Court after an NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears; and Roger Staubach, the Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys quarterback and staunch Republican. 

"He liked me right from the beginning and therefore I like him," Mr. Trump said about Hatch during the ceremony.

Posthumous honors are being granted to Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth and Antonin Scalia, the conservative Supreme Court justice. Mr. Trump has often praised Scalia and has made good on his promise to nominate judges "very much in the mold of Justice Scalia" in the Supreme Court. The admiration was apparently mutual, according to Scalia's literary collaborator Bryan Garner. According to Garner's memoir, Scalia "thought it was most refreshing to have a candidate who was pretty much unfiltered and utterly frank."

Mr. Trump noted that Scalia and his wife, who was accepting the medal on her husband's behalf, had nine children. "You were very busy. Wow. I always knew I liked him," Mr. Trump said.

Notable guests at the event included several members of the Supreme Court, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a close friend of Scalia's, who is recovering from a fall last week. Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Elena Kagan, and John Roberts were also in attendance. Mr. Trump also noted the presence of Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who represents Page's home state.

The Adelsons gave Mr. Trump's presidential campaign a $30 million boost in the final months of the 2016 race. The couple followed up this election cycle by donating $100 million to the Republican Party for last week's midterms.

Miriam Adelson, 73, is an Israeli-born, naturalized U.S. citizen who earned a medical degree from Tel Aviv University and founded a pair of drug abuse treatment and research centers in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv. She and her husband own the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Israel Hayom newspapers, which often stake out pro-Trump positions.

The Adelsons are also avid supporters of Israel. Their passion for strengthening the country, along with Israel-U.S. relations, has helped keep such policy priorities as relocating the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem front and center in the Republican Party and the Trump administration.

Mr. Trump moved the embassy in May, and Sheldon Adelson, who had offered to personally fund the move, was seated in the front row for the ceremony.

Robert Weissman, president of public interest group Public Citizen, said it was difficult to believe the decision to recognize Miriam Adelson was based on merit.

"It's emblematic of the corrupt and transactional presidency of Donald Trump, and it is a shame, but not a surprise, that he is corroding and corrupting a civic treasure, an honor like the Medal of Freedom," Weissman said.

Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman, said Mr. Trump used the process that previous administrations have followed to settle on his group of honorees. The process was coordinated by the office of the staff secretary, taking into account recommendations from the public, relevant presidential advisory bodies, the Cabinet and senior White House staff, she said.

The award is given to individuals "who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

Miriam Adelson said she is "deeply humbled and moved by this exceptional honor."

"Liberty is at the heart of my decades of work against substance abuse. Drug dependency is enslavement, for the user and his or her family and society, and treatment an emancipation," she said in a statement released Thursday by Las Vegas Sands Corp., a company owned by Sheldon Adelson that operates hotels and casinos around the world. "Together, my husband, Sheldon, and I have dedicated our lives to freedom: to a free market that benefits the greater good and to philanthropic endeavors that succor those suffering from poverty and disease."

E. Fletcher McClellan, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, said there are no limitations on who can receive the presidential honor.

"He has total discretion as to who and when and how," said McClellan, who has studied the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Christopher Devine, a politics professor at the University of Dayton, questioned Miriam Adelson's impact on American culture or national interests as compared to past recipients like Oprah Winfrey or Bruce Springsteen. Both Winfrey and Springsteen received medals from President Barack Obama, whom they supported politically. Obama also awarded the medal to his vice president, Joe Biden, in 2017.

"This is what leaves many people wondering whether President Trump singled her out for an award as something of a thank-you for her and husband Sheldon Adelson's very substantial donations to Republican candidates and causes over the years, including ones in support of Trump's election in 2016," said Devine, who wrote a book about the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Devine said that while Miriam Adelson isn't the first campaign contributor to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the size of her campaign contributions sets her apart from the rest.

Medal of Freedom list of recipients Friday

  • Miriam Adelson
  • Orrin Hatch
  • Alan Page
  • Elvis Presley
  • Babe Ruth
  • Antonin Scalia
  • Roger Staubach