By Maegan Vazquez, CNN
President Joe Biden will award the Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — to 17 recipients next week, with his first slate of honorees since taking office featuring Olympians, an Academy Award winner, the first American to receive the Covid-19 vaccine outside of trials, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and civil rights advocates.
Biden will bestow the medal to several posthumous honorees, including Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
The list includes Olympic athletes Simone Biles and Megan Rapinoe, the fifth and sixth female athletes to be honored for the award. Rapinoe will be the first female soccer player to receive the medal.
According to a statement from US Soccer, Rapinoe, the US Women’s National Team forward and an advocate for equal pay, found out last week when Biden called her between practice sessions in Denver. When she saw “The White House” pop up on her phone screen, she thought she was either getting a robocall or being pranked by her teammates.
“In that moment I spoke to the President, I was, and still am, totally overwhelmed,” Rapinoe said in a statement, adding that she is thinking of “all the people who I feel deserve a part of this medal.”
“I am humbled and truly honored to be chosen for this award by President Biden and feel as inspired and motivated as ever to continue this long history of fighting for the freedoms of all people. To quote Emma Lazarus, ‘Until we are all free, we are none of us free,'” she added.
Biden’s list of awardees also includes religious clergy and social justice advocates, including: Sister Simone Campbell, who previously led the Catholic social justice organization NETWORK; Father Alexander Karloutsos, a priest who has provided counsel to several US presidents; Fred Gray, one of the first Black members of the Alabama State legislature since Reconstruction; Diane Nash, a civil rights organizer; and Raul Yzaguirre, a civil rights advocate and former US ambassador to the Dominican Republic.
Academy Award winning actor Denzel Washington will also receive the award.
Giffords, who became an advocate for gun violence prevention after she was shot in an assassination attempt in 2011, said in a statement that she’s “humbled and honored” to receive the medal.
“Since I was shot more than 11 years ago, my personal recovery journey has taught me that it’s not the setback that defines us: it’s how we respond to it. There have been no shortage of setbacks as I relearned how to talk and how to walk, just as there have been no shortage of setbacks in the fight for gun safety that I’ve dedicated my life to. And yet I’ve never lost hope,” she said. “One of my reasons for hope sits inside the Oval Office today, elected to accomplish the near-impossible task of healing a divided nation.”
Other recipients include Dr. Juliet Garcia — the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president, Gold Star father Khizr Khan, Sandra Lindsay — a New York nurse who was the first American to receive a Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials, and Brigadier General Wilma Vaught — one of the most decorated women in the history of the US military.
The honorees have a variety of connections to Democrats and Biden world.
Laurene Powell Jobs, the founder of Emerson Collective and Steve Jobs’ widow, donated more than $700,000 to the Biden Victory Fund in 2020.
McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, was appointed by Biden to serve as the US Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture. Biden appointed Khan to serve on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom last year. And Garcia served on the Clinton and Obama transition teams for education.
Giffords and the Giffords PAC endorsed Biden in 2020. And Trumka’s AFL-CIO endorsed Biden, too, with the late union leader saying just after the 2020 election that Biden’s “path to the White House ran through America’s labor movement.”
Simpson was a peer of Biden’s on the Senate Judiciary Committee, supporting the then-senator as he attempted to salvage his 1988 presidential campaign following a plagiarism scandal.
According to the White House, Biden will present the awards on July 7 at the White House.
Biden is a Medal of Freedom honoree himself. Then-President Barack Obama surprised his vice president with the award in 2017.
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