Donald Trump has been roundly condemned by critics for giving the controversial conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh one of the highest civilian awards in the country in the middle of his State of the Union address.
Mr Trump announced his decision to award Mr Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during his speech on Tuesday night, having Melania Trump present the medal and place it on the outspoken supporter of the president.
Though news of the decision was widely reported hours before the State of the Union address, Mr Limbaugh initially appeared surprised, seemingly shaking his head in disbelief before accepting the award from the First Lady. The prestigious medal has been awarded to trailblazing political figures and activists like Martin Luther King Jr, Shirley Chisolm, and Desmond Tutu, among others.
Mr Limbaugh recently announced he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.
The 69-year-old has been accused of spreading racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant claims, infamously calling former President Barack Obama “more African in his roots than he is American” while suggesting the former president was “behaving like an African colonial despot”.
He has also said slavery “had its merits” for having “built the South” and called Mexican immigrants “stupid and unskilled”, adding: “You’re a foreigner. You shut your mouth or you get out.”
Walter Shaub, former director for the Office of Government Ethics, slammed the decision in a statement that suggested Mr Trump was awarding Mr Limbaugh the honour in order to appease his base.
“Like the Joe Arpaio pardon, Trump awarding that medal to Rush Limbaugh has nothing to do with its recipient but was awarded as a message to the viciously racist, nationalist segment of the population whose votes Trump needs,” he wrote. “It says: Stay with me, I am with you.”
Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel noted that Mr Trump was awarding the honour to Mr Limbaugh on Rosa Parks Day, which celebrates the legacy of the civil rights icon who also received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996.
“Today is Rosa Parks Day,” Mr Kimmel said, “and this is a medal they gave Rosa Parks.”
He added: “Tonight, Rush Limbaugh got it.”
CNN journalist Jim Acosta also responded to the president’s State of the Union Address, saying Mr Trump “was trying to make appeals to the African American community” and noting: “It can’t be forgotten that he was awarding the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, who has a history of making derogatory comments about African Americans.”
“So I think, you know, overall, it’s a wash”, the reporter said.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, called Mr Limbaugh a "virulent racist" and said his being awarded the medal "cheapens" the prestigious honour.
"First of all, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is an extraordinarily sacred award," she said. "We're talking about putting someone on the same level as Rosa Parks, for example, in terms of their contributions to American progress."
She continued: "To do it in the middle of a State of the Union, and not even dignify it with its own ceremony, as it has, there is all sorts of norms that are being violated ... not just for people's humanity but also, it truly just cheapens the value of it."
Not everyone was in opposition to Mr Limbaugh receiving the award, however: fellow radio host Rita Cosby described the instance as a “touching moment” and said the president’s State of the Union was “emotional” in a tweet.
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