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Biden is giving the Medal of Freedom to a who's who of Democrats (and Katie Ledecky)

President Biden is welcomed by Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. on Jan. 27, 2024, as he campaigned ahead of the South Carolina Democratic primary.
Kent Nishimura
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AFP via Getty Images
President Biden is welcomed by Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. on Jan. 27, 2024, as he campaigned ahead of the South Carolina Democratic primary.

President Biden on Friday will give the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation's highest civilian honor — to a group of 19 people that includes an unusually large contingent of high-profile Democrats.

There's Rep. Jim Clyburn, D.-S.C., whose endorsement was key in helping Biden win the party's nomination in 2020, and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

There is a trio of Democrats who also made a run for the presidency:

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  • former Vice President Al Gore, who ran in 2000 and is known for his work on climate issues
  • former Secretary of State John Kerry, until recently Biden's climate envoy, who ran in 2004, and
  • former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire and philanthropist who backs many Democratic causes, and who ran against Biden in 2020.

President Biden and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stand onstage during an Emily's List gala on May 16, 2023.
Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
President Biden and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stand onstage during an Emily's List gala on May 16, 2023.

Biden will posthumously award the medal to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

And in a nod to bipartisanship, Biden will also give the award to former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a cabinet secretary in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations. She also sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. Her late husband, Sen. Bob Dole, was a Republican presidential nominee in 1996.

Civil rights leaders are also getting medals

Presidents typically give the medal to people who reflect their priorities, as well as to allies. Former President Donald Trump presented the award to Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.

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Biden — who was giventhe award himself by former President Barack Obama — last handed out medals in July 2022 to a group that featured civil rights and labor leaders.

Opal Lee and Vice President Harris at a Juneteenth concert at the White House on June 13, 2023.
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AFP via Getty Images
Opal Lee and Vice President Harris at a Juneteenth concert at the White House on June 13, 2023.

This year's list includes the late Medgar Evers, a pioneer in the civil rights movement in Mississippi who was assassinated in 1963. Also included will be:

  • Clarence B. Jones, a civil rights activist and lawyer who helped draft Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech
  • Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers and the first Latina to lead a national union
  • Judy Shepard, who has fought for LGBTQ rights after her son Matthew was killed in an anti-gay hate crime
  • Father Greg Boyle, founder of the world's largest gang intervention program in Los Angeles, and
  • Opal Lee, considered the grandmother of Juneteenth, who pushed to get June 19 recognized as a national holiday
Olympic gold medal swimmer Katie Ledecky speaks with then-Vice President Biden during a White House event honoring Olympians on Sept. 14, 2012.
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Olympic gold medal swimmer Katie Ledecky speaks with then-Vice President Biden during a White House event honoring Olympians on Sept. 14, 2012.

And there are other luminaries, too

Biden is also taking the opportunity to award the medal to a few stars from other fields:

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  • Phil Donahue, whose talk show ran for 26 years
  • Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky
  • Oscar-winning actress Michelle Yeoh
  • Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space and the second female director of NASA's renowned Johnson Space Center, and
  • astronomer Jane Rigby, the chief scientist of the James Webb Space Telescope

Jim Thorpe, the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal and who was a star in several sports, will receive the award posthumously.

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Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.