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Biden honors Simone Biles, John McCain, and 15 others with Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Joe Biden honored 17 people with the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, at the White House on Thursday.

The award celebrates “individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors,” according to the White House. The new recipients include U.S. Olympians, CEOs, politicians, a high-profile Hollywood actor, members of the military, and the first woman to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of a clinical trial.


“The Fourth of July week reminds us what brought us together long ago, and still binds us — binds us at our best, what we strive for. We the people, doing what we can to ensure that the idea of America, the cause of freedom, shines like the sun to light up the future of the world,” Biden said. “That’s the soul of our nation. That’s who we are as Americans.”

U.S. Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, who is the country’s most decorated gymnast, was among the women selected. In addition to her accomplishments as an athlete, Biles is an advocate for sexual assault victims. She opened up about being a victim of former Olympic osteopathic physician Larry Nassar, who was accused of being a serial child molester who abused hundreds of Olympic gymnasts. Nassar pleaded guilty in 2017 to federal charges of child pornography and tampering. Combined with a guilty plea in Michigan state court to counts of sexual assault, Nassar will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden awards the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to gymnast Simone Biles during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 7, 2022. Biles is the most decorated U.S. gymnast in history, winning 32 Olympic and World Championship medals, and is an advocate on issues including athletes’ mental health, children in foster care and sexual assault victims. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Susan Walsh/AP

Denzel Washington, an award-winning actor, producer, and director who spent over 25 years as the national spokesman for the Boys & Girls Club of America, was also honored at the ceremony. However, Washington tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the ceremony and was unable to accept the award in person. The White House said Washington will receive the award at a different time.

The awardees are the first people to receive the honor from Biden’s administration. The late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a close personal friend of the president’s who died in 2018, was also awarded the medal posthumously.

“We used to argue like hell on the Senate floor, but then we’d go down and have lunch together afterwards,” Biden said, according to Deadline. “I never stopped admiring John. I never said a negative thing about him in my life, because I knew his honor, his courage, and his commitment. That was John McCain. … We became friends. We agreed on a lot more than we disagreed on. … But the two things we never talked about — we never talked about his imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton, nor the death of my wife and my daughter. The pain was significantly different, yet somehow, we seemed to understand one another. It was a long time ago. We both wanted to make things better for the country we both loved, and that never wavered.”

McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, accepted the award on his behalf. Cindy McCain serves as Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.

Biden Medal of Freedom
President Joe Biden posthumously awards the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Sen. John McCain of Arizona as his wife Cindy McCain accepts the award during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 7, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

J. Scott Applewhite/AP


Sister Simone Campbell, a member of the Sisters of Social Service and former executive director of NETWORK; civil rights attorney Fred Gray; Father Alexander Karloutsos; religious freedom advocate and Gold Star father Khizr Khan; the first Mexican American female college president Julieta Garcia; Sandra Lindsay, a nurse who became the first person to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.; Olympic gold medalist soccer player Megan Rapinoe; former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who is also a gun control advocate; former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY); and retired Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught also received a medal.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and former AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka were also awarded the honor posthumously.

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