President Trump sparked controversy at the State of the Union on Tuesday, Feb. 4 when he recognized a controversial conservative talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, with an honor previously given to the likes of Rosa Parks. Limbaugh — who revealed that he had advanced lung cancer on Monday, Feb. 3 — was awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by first lady Melania Trump. It was an unprecedented move, especially considering that the host is no stranger to controversy, and these tweets about Trump giving Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom at the 2020 State of the Union don't hold back. Elite Daily attempted to reach representatives of Limbaugh for comment on the criticism of him and the award on social media, but did not immediately hear back
The award had been hinted at earlier in the day, but was officially announced about halfway through Trump's Tuesday night speech. The first lady put the medal on a visibly shocked Limbaugh as President Trump thanked him for his "decades of tireless devotion to our country."
"Here tonight is a special man, someone beloved by millions of Americans who just received a Stage 4 advanced cancer diagnosis. This is not good news, but what is good news is that he is the greatest fighter and winner that you will ever meet," Trump continued. "I am proud to announce tonight that you will be receiving our country's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom."
Limbaugh, who has hosted his conservative talk radio show The Rush Limbaugh Show for several decades, is deeply controversial. Limbaugh has frequently been criticized for troubling statements about women, as well as comments on abortion, race, and feminism. Perhaps his most notable controversy was in 2012, when Limbaugh drew ire for referring to Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown student and activist advocating for access to birth control, as a "slut" and a "prostitute" on his radio show. Limbaugh later offered Fluke a public apology after a number of advertisers left his show over the comments. He is also an outspoken supporter of President Trump.
Still, it was an unprecedented move to award the honor during the State of the Union, let alone to such a controversial figure, and Twitter erupted shortly after the announcement was made.
The Medal of Freedom, which Trump has given to late public figures like Babe Ruth, Elvis Presley, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, is traditionally bestowed on someone who has "made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." Notable recipients include Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa. However, it's not the first time that a president has awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a political ally, as former President Obama honored his Vice President Joe Biden with the accolade.