The award’s presentation, which was performed by first lady Melania Trump, came one day after “The Rush Limbaugh Show” host announced on his radio program that he’d been diagnosed with “advanced” lung cancer.
Trump, in introducing Limbaugh, heralded him as “a special man” who has inspired millions of Americans through his “decades of tireless devotion to our country.”
“This is not good news,” Trump said of the radio host’s stage 4 cancer diagnosis, “but what is good news is that he is the greatest fighter and winner that you will ever meet.”
Limbaugh has said that he will miss some of his shows while he receives and recovers from cancer treatment.
“I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, and I thought about not telling anybody,” he told his listeners on Monday. “I thought about trying to do this without anybody knowing, because I don’t like making things about me, but there are going to be days that I’m not going to be able to be here.”
Limbaugh has been a steadfast supporter of Trump throughout his presidency. In July, he defended Trump’s hard-line immigration policy by suggesting that drinking water from a toilet could be “a step up” for some detained migrants. He’s also known for espousing conspiracy theories, such as one he pushed in March suggesting that the white supremacist who massacred dozens of people at mosques in New Zealand was actually a leftist trying to “smear his political enemies.”
Trump reportedly spoke at length about Limbaugh’s power during an off-the-record meeting at the White House ahead of his national address on Tuesday, sources told The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.
Presidents traditionally bestow the Medal of Freedom upon “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,” according to the White House.
Few radio personalities have received the prestigious award. The most recent was Paul Harvey, another conservative radio broadcaster, who received the medal from President George W. Bush.
This story has been updated after Trump recognized Limbaugh during the State of the Union address.