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East Room

1:37 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please. It’s a great honor. Melania and I are thrilled to welcome you to the White House as we honor the recipients of our nation’s highest civilian honor: the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Something very, very special.

We are joined today by many members of my administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Hello, Mike. Steve Mnuchin. Steve, thank you very much. Wilbur Ross, Alex Acosta, Matt Whittaker — Matt. Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Administrator Linda McMahon, Ambassador Lighthizer, and Acting Administrator — who, I will tell you, is going to be made permanent — he’s done a fantastic job and I want to congratulate him — EPA — Andrew Wheeler. Where’s Andrew? Congratulations, Andrew. (Applause.) Great job. Great job. Thank you very much.

Thank you as well to Senator Amy Klobuchar for being here. Where is Amy, by the way? Where is Amy? I did better before, Amy.

And for five decades — I have to say — the Presidential Medal of Freedom has been given to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to American life and culture.

This year, it is my true privilege to award this honor to seven extraordinary Americans: Senator Orrin Hatch; the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia; Miriam Adelson; Roger Staubach; Alan Page; and two more recipients who are no longer with us but whose legacies will live on forever — legendary Babe Ruth, legendary Elvis Presley. True legends.

The first recipient is one of the longest-serving and most respected Senators in American history — Senator Orrin Hatch. A friend of mine, great friend of mine. He liked me right from the beginning and therefore I like him. (Laughter.) That helps. It’s the way it is. I guess I’m not supposed to say it, but that’s the way life works, right? (Laughter.)

For the last 42 years, Senator Hatch has proudly represented the people of Utah, sponsoring more bills that have become law than any living legislator. From rewriting our tax code, to helping just hardworking Americans get through life, to reshaping our Courts to uphold the vision of our Founders, to protecting the religious freedom of all Americans, his achievements are too numerous to count.

Senator Hatch is a true American Statesman. Today, Senator Hatch is joined by his incredible family; the love of his life, Elaine — they have been married for 61 years; along with their six children: Brent, Marcia, Scott, Kimberly, Alysa, and Jess. Congratulations — please stand up. Congratulations to you all. (Applause.) Thank you. Congratulations. Congratulations to you all. Congratulations. Thank you very much. Thank you.

The second recipient we honor today is one of the greatest — truly was one of the greatest jurists ever to serve our country: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Universally admired for his towering intellect, brilliant wit, and fierce devotion to our founding principles, Justice Scalia has made a deep and lasting impact on the history of our nation. His presence is dearly missed by all. Friend of a lot of people. Truly great intellect.

Justice Scalia transformed the American legal landscape, igniting a national movement to apply the original meaning of the Constitution as written. Few have done more to uphold this nation’s founding charter.

Through nearly 900 written opinions and more than 30 years on the bench, Justice Scalia defended the American system of government and preserved the foundations of American freedom. Our whole nation is indeed indebted to Justice Scalia for his lifetime of noble and truly incredible service.

Joining us for this ceremony is his wife Maureen — who’s become a great friend of my family and myself — and their nine children: Ann, Gene, John, Catherine, Mary Clare, Paul, Matthew, Christopher, and Meg. You were very busy. Wow. (Laughter.) Wow. I always knew I liked him. (Laughter.)

Also here are several of Justice Scalia’s former colleagues — and very respected ones at that. It’s a personal tribute that they are giving to their friend. Chief Justice Roberts, where are you? Thank you very much. Thank you.

Justice Ginsburg — glad to see you are feeling great. Justice Alito, thank you. Justice Kagan, Justice Gorsuch, and Justice Kavanaugh, thank you very much. That’s a great honor — looking down, saying thank you very much.

Our next Medal of Freedom recipient is a renowned philanthropist, somebody who has worked so hard. Doesn’t have to do it, but she does. Twenty-four hours a day, this is what she does. Miriam Adelson.

A medical doctor, Miriam has dedicated her life to fighting addiction — something we’re all becoming all too familiar with. Through decades of innovative research, philanthropy, and treatment, Miriam has helped thousands break free from their addiction to drugs and to alcohol.

In 2006, Miriam and her husband Sheldon, who is with us today — thank you, Sheldon — established the Adelson Medical Research Foundation to prevent, reduce, or eliminate life-threatening diseases.

To protect the sacred heritage of the Jewish faith, Miriam and Sheldon have supported Jewish schools, Holocaust Memorial organizations, and helped Jewish Americans visit the Holy Land. Miriam, I want to thank you very much for saving so many lives and helping so many people to get back to a normal way of life. You’ve been incredible. I know the work you’ve done. And you have been truly incredible.

Here to celebrate Miriam’s award is Sheldon. Where is Sheldon? Where is Sheldon? Where is he? There he is. Oh, why — you didn’t make the front row. He’s probably angry. (Laughter.) Thank you, Sheldon. And their children, Sivan, Yasmin, Adam, and Matan, as well as their son-in-law Patrick. Thank you all for being here. Please stand up. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Congratulations. Congratulations.

And they were very happy to see the embassy move to Jerusalem. They were very happy about that. So congratulations on that also. They fought very hard for that. (Applause.) Capital of Israel.

Our next recipient of the Medal of Freedom is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. I used to watch him when I was going to school, and I’d say, “They can’t catch him. He’s just better by far than everybody else.” He is something. The winner of the Heisman Trophy, Roger Staubach.

As a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Roger set 28 football records. Upon graduation, he volunteered to deploy to Vietnam for one year and served in the Navy for a total of four years.

At the age of 27 — which is a little late — he began his NFL career, and what a career it was. Over the next 11 seasons, Roger led the Dallas Cowboys to four Super Bowls, and earned Pro Bowl honors six times. His exceptional talent earned Roger a place in both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And I have to tell you, I had a golf match where Roger was my partner. And we were in deep trouble, and Roger was also in deep trouble. He was so deep in the weeds that you wouldn’t believe it. (Laughter.) And we desperately need a par on the 18th hole to win. And he came out and hit a shot — I don’t know how it happened, but he was this far from the hole. We got our par; we won. And I said, “That’s Roger Staubach.” (Laughter.) I hope you remember that, Roger. That was quite exciting.

Roger and Marianne, his wife of 53 years, have generously supported thousands of Americans in need, including students, military families, and our truly great veterans. So helpful. Roger, you inspire Americans across the country to work hard, dream big, and always push on to victory.

Roger became a great financial success — a very successful businessman — after his football career. His family is with us for this special ceremony — Marianne and their five children: Jennifer, Michelle, Stephanie, Jeff, and Amy. Please stand up. Please. Please stand up. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Our next Medal of Freedom recipient is American football legend — and he was indeed a legend. He was tough, strong. Minnesota Supreme Court Justice — he became a Supreme Court Justice. So he’s only nervous with all of these U.S. Supreme Court Justices. (Laughter.) Justice Alan Page. A very special man.

A College Football Hall of Famer, Alan helped Notre Dame secure the National Championship in 1966. He went on to have a 15-year NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears. He became the first — and one of the only — defensive players to earn the league’s MVP award. That happens very, very seldom.

While Alan was still playing for the Vikings, he went to law school and earned a law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School. In 1993, he became the first African American Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court, where he served for more than two decades. That’s very impressive. What do you think? That’s a very impressive job. Really, it is. Thank you, Alan.

Alan and his wife Diane founded the Page Education Foundation, which has provided nearly 7,000 scholarships to civic-minded students. Sadly, one month ago, Diane passed away after a heroic struggle with cancer. Said to be a great woman. Alan, we know that the goodness, grace, and hope that Diane brought into our world will live on for many generations to come. She is looking down on you right now and she is so proud with love. She is so proud of you.

Alan is joined today by three of their children: Georgianna, Justin, and Kamie. Please stand up. Please stand up. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. That’s a great honor. Thank you.

It is also my honor today to award the Medal of Freedom to one of the most celebrated sports heroes in world history. The “Sultan of Swat”, the “Great Bambino” — the one and only Babe Ruth. He truly is — when you think — I mean, let’s face it, Babe Ruth is Babe Ruth. Right?

George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr. — he was a “junior” — I can imagine what his father was like — (laughter) — he must have been tough — lived from 1895 to 1948, learning the game of baseball from Catholic Brothers at his orphanage. At the age of 19, he was signed by the Boston Red Sox as a pitcher, and soon became one of the best pitchers in baseball. People don’t know that. Babe Ruth was one of the best pitchers. He still has records today.

In 1920, he started with the New York Yankees. And I have heard for many years — what’s the worst trade in the history of sports? Babe Ruth, 19-year-old pitcher, for $100,000 and a 35-year-old third baseman. That was not a good trade — who was out of baseball the following season. That was not good. Of course, $100,000 is probably like $25 million today, but it was still a lousy deal. (Laughter.)

But he became one of the greatest hitters of all-time. They drafted him. They took him as a pitcher, but they knew they wanted to make him a hitter. In fact, we have George Steinbrenner IV — George Steinbrenner was one of my best friends. He was tough. He was tough, but he was good. Where is George Steinbrenner IV — his grandson? He’s here someplace. Where is he? Thank you very much. Would you say hello to the family? That’s very nice that you’re here. Please. (Applause.)
George — George was a real piece of work, I have to tell you that. (Laughter.) Your grandfather was very difficult, but he was good. He had a good heart. (Laughter.) Sitting with George during the playoffs, as I often had to do, was like you’d go home exhausted. (Laughter.) It was exhausting. So thank you for being here. Thank you very much.

The Babe hit 714 homeruns — a record that stood for nearly 40 years. And people often would say that was a somewhat dead ball; it didn’t have the life the ball has today. He would often hit more homeruns in a season than the league average for an entire team. And, in one season, hit more homeruns than the entire American League. How do you do that? To this day, his career slugging percentage of 690 remains the highest in the history of baseball. Hard to believe, actually.

The Babe was also known for his devotion to our nation and its children. He visited countless children in hospitals and orphanages, supported more than 100 charities, raised money, and raised hell. He was — maybe that’s why it’s taken him a long time to get this award. This award should have been given to him a long time ago. I said, “You mean Babe Ruth hasn’t gotten it?” We took care of that real fast. But he was incredible. But he raised a lot of money for the war effort during World War II.

As we honor the legend who enshrined baseball as “America’s Pastime,” we are excited to be joined by a number of Babe Ruth’s descendants, including his grandchildren Donna Analovitch and Tom Stevens. And I want to thank you very much for being here. Please stand up. Please. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, Tom.

Our final Medal of Freedom — and here’s another one who’s just very incredible — today goes to one of the most beloved artists and most enduring cultural icons that has ever lived. The “King of Rock and Roll” — the true king, and you have to say that — Elvis Aaron Presley.

(Musical clip from “How Great Thou Art” is played.)

That was Elvis. That was my idea. I said, “Give me a little — a little song.” (Laughter.) That was, I guess, a little promotional ability. But I will tell you, he was something special. I’d like to hear the rest of the song. I don’t know why they cut it off so short. (Laughter.) They have no promotional ability, that’s why. (Laughter.)

Growing up from humble beginnings in Mississippi, Elvis lived from 1935 to 1977, and first rose to fame with the 1954 single, “That’s All Right,” recorded at the fabled Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Great place.

He soon skyrocketed to international stardom, recording over three decades of unforgettable hits — from “Heartbreak Hotel,” to “Suspicious Minds,” to “Burning Love.” Elvis also won three Grammys for his gospel recordings, which were incredible, including his soaring live performance of “How Great Thou Art” –just got to hear a little piece of.

Deeply patriotic, Elvis served in the U.S. military at the height of his fame. He had a choice. And, to him, it wasn’t a choice.

Presley starred in more than 30 films. And his 1973 television special, “Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii,” was viewed by more than a billion people around the world. One of the highest ever in the history of television.

After redefining music in the fifties and redefining cinema in the sixties, “The King” — as he was known by everybody — everybody, to this day, they call him “The King — revolutionized live performances in the 1970s.

From the moment Elvis walked on the stage to the closing chords of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” crowds were enraptured by Elvis’s electric performances and unbreakable bond with his fans.
In fact, at the end of a performance, oftentimes the fans would go so wild — I was there once in Las Vegas, at the Hilton. The fans were ripping the place apart, screaming. They were going crazy. And they announced, “Elvis has left the house. Elvis…” If they didn’t say that, I think I’d still be there. Maybe I wouldn’t be here. (Laughter.) But they had to do that. “Elvis has gone. Elvis has left.”

Today, we are glad to be joined by President and CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Jack Soden. Jack, thank you very much.

I want to congratulate all of this year’s recipients, and family members, and loved ones. America is blessed to have the most skill, passion, and talent anywhere on Earth. We are truly a great nation, and we’re a nation that is doing really, really well right now. We have our greatest economy ever. We have our greatest employment numbers ever. We’re doing well. And we’re proud to be doing so well.

And I’d like to now ask the military aide to come forward and read the citations for each recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Thank you.

MILITARY AIDE: The honorable Orrin G. Hatch. Senator Orrin Hatch is one of the longest serving senators in American history, having represented Utah for more than 41 years. Currently the Senate’s President pro tempore and Chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Hatch has sponsored more bills that have become law than any other living Member of Congress. He has led the way in confirming qualified judges throughout the Federal judiciary in order to protect our constitutional order, and has championed religious liberty, fought against communism, and stood on the side of freedom around the world. Senator Hatch’s dedication to the Senate, the country, and the rule of law has helped make our country what it is today, and for that, we honor him. (Applause.)

The honorable Antonin Scalia. Antonin Scalia was one of the greatest Supreme Court Justices in American history. Confirmed unanimously in 1986, Justice Scalia authored nearly 900 Supreme Court opinions. He was a champion of the Constitution, insisting that the role of federal judges is to uphold the original meaning of the Constitution, never to impose their own beliefs on the country. Justice Scalia’s legal philosophy is rooted in America’s founding principles, legal heritage, and constitutional obligations. He never backed down from the bedrock proposition that the Constitution “means and will always mean what it meant when it was adopted.” Justice Scalia’s devotion to the rule of law has left a lasting legacy for our country, and we now honor this giant of the Supreme Court. (Applause.)

Dr. Miriam Adelson. Miriam Adelson is a committed doctor, philanthropist, and humanitarian. She has practiced internal and emergency medicine, studied and specialized in the disease of narcotic addiction, and founded two research centers committed to fighting substance abuse. She and her husband Sheldon also established the Adelson Medical Research Foundation, which supports research to prevent, reduce, or eliminate disabling and life-threatening illness. As a committed member of the American Jewish community, she has supported Jewish schools, Holocaust memorial organizations, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, and Birthright Israel, among other causes. The United States is proud to recognize Dr. Adelson for an incredible career and record of service to her community and the country. (Applause.)

Roger Staubach. Hall-of-Fame quarterback Roger Staubach played 11 seasons in the National Football League, winning two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, and making the Pro Bowl six times. He first made his mark on football at the United States Naval Academy, where he set 28 records and won the Heisman Trophy in 1963. Soon after graduating, Mr. Staubach volunteered to fight in the Vietnam War. Following his football career, he was a successful businessman and a champion for many charitable causes, including the United Way of America; the Children’s Scholarship Fund; and Allies in Service, an organization devoted to supporting servicemembers, veterans, and their spouses. The United States now honors Mr. Staubach’s life of service and accomplishment on and off the field. (Applause.)

The Honorable Alan C. Page. (Applause.) Justice Alan Page is an accomplished jurist, athlete, and philanthropist. After a successful college football career at the University of Notre Dame, he played 15 years in the National Football League with the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears. He started in four Super Bowls, was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1971, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988. While playing for the Vikings, he obtained his law degree and practiced law during the off-season. After retiring from the NFL in 1981, Justice Page practiced law full-time before winning a seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1992. He served for more than 20 years. Since 1988, his Page Education Foundation has provided scholarships to nearly 7,000 students. The United States proudly recognizes Justice Page’s athletic accomplishments and lifetime of public service and philanthropy. (Applause.)

George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr. Babe Ruth played for four baseball teams between 1914 and 1935. He set records that stood for decades, including 714 homeruns, 2,873 hits, 2,174 runs, and 2,062 walks, and he remains unmatched with a .690 slugging percentage. Over 15 legendary seasons, Babe Ruth led the Yankees to seven American League championships and four World Series championships. His legacy has never been eclipsed, and he remains the personification of “America’s Pastime.” Off the baseball field, he created The Babe Ruth Foundation and tirelessly raised funds for the war effort during the Second World War. The United States proudly honors an American hero who forever changed the landscape of American sports. (Applause.)

Elvis Aaron Presley. Elvis Presley defined American culture to billions of adoring fans around the world. The “King of Rock and Roll,” Elvis fused gospel, country, and rhythm and blues to create a sound all his own, selling more than a billion records. Elvis also served nearly two years in the United States Army, humbly accepting the call to serve despite his fame. He starred in 31 films, drew record-breaking audiences to his shows, sent television ratings soaring, and earned 14 Grammy Award nominations. He ultimately won three Grammy Awards for his gospel music. Decades after his passing, Elvis Presley remains an enduring and beloved American icon. The United States is proud to honor this American legend. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I just want to thank everybody. These are outstanding individuals and we are so proud to have them represent us for so many years. And it’s a great honor to have everybody with us.

And on behalf of the First Lady Melania, myself, thank you all for being here. This has been extraordinary. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)


2:09 P.M. EST