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Viva Las Vegas: Elvis, Adelson Honored With Presidential Medal Of Freedom03:32
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President Trump awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to American Football hall-of-famer Alan Page at the White House on Friday. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to American Football hall-of-famer Alan Page at the White House on Friday. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Updated at 4:12 p.m. ET

A king, a senator and the "Sultan of Swat" were honored at the White House on Friday.

President Trump presented the nation's highest civilian honor to seven people, including Elvis Presley and Babe Ruth.

The president highlighted Ruth's legendary baseball prowess, his contributions to orphanages and other charities, and his colorful off-field antics.

He "raised money and raised hell," Trump said of Ruth, who died 70 years ago. "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."

Trump also described seeing Presley perform live in Las Vegas.

"The fans were ripping the place apart, screaming," he recalled. "They were going crazy. And they announced, 'Elvis has left the house.' If they didn't say that, I think I'd still be there."

Honoring Presley and Ruth might signal Trump's nostalgic yearning for America as it was in the last century. They're also safe picks for a president whose invitations have at times been spurned by more contemporary artists and athletes.

"Those who are deceased can't really object," said Fletcher McClellan, a political scientist at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.

He and several colleagues have cataloged all 500-plus Medals of Freedom that have been issued since the award was established by John F. Kennedy. They see the medals as a source of insight because, while honorees are suggested by a variety of people, the president has total discretion to pick the recipients.

"This is a fascinating way to find out what is important to a president," McClellan said. "In President Trump's case, we get to learn more about what 'Make America Great' means to him."

While less than 10 percent of previous Medals of Freedom were presented posthumously, more than 40 percent of Trump's fall into that category.

Some of Trump's picks are unsurprising. He'll recognize the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who's retiring after 41 years.

Trump is the first president to extend the honor to a couple of professional football stars, Roger Staubach and Alan Page.

McClellan said Staubach is an easy choice, since he attended the Naval Academy, won the Heisman Trophy and played for the Dallas Cowboys.

Trump fondly recalled partnering with Staubach on the golf course.

"We were in deep trouble," Trump said. "He was so deep in the weeds that you wouldn't believe it. And we desperately needed a par on the 18th hole to win. And he came out and hit his 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.' "

Page had a Hall of Fame career with the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears and then went on to serve more than 20 years as a justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

During his playing days, Page was active with the players' union. And more recently, he has defended NFL players who protest police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem.

"What Paul Robeson said was, 'The answer to injustice is not to silence the critic. It is to end the injustice,' " Page told WCCO-TV in January.

Trump, who has criticized players who kneel during the anthem, made no mention of that during the awards ceremony. Instead, he focused on Page's stellar football and legal careers as well as the educational foundation he started.

"Alan and his wife Diane founded the Page Education Foundation, which has provided nearly 7,000 scholarships to civic-minded students," Trump said.

Researchers have found some predictable patterns in past Medal of Freedom honorees. Republican presidents tend to recognize more military figures, while Democrats are more likely to honor labor and civil rights leaders. One surprise, McClellan said, is that Republican presidents have awarded more medals to journalists.

"That was a puzzler, and we still haven't figured that out," he said.

No journalists made Trump's list of honorees. The president's final pick for the Medal of Freedom this year is Miriam Adelson, who is described by the White House as a "committed doctor, philanthropist, and humanitarian." She's also a GOP megadonor, along with her husband, the billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

"This is a power couple that really cuts a path in U.S. politics and has been a major benefactor to the Republican Party for many years," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions.

The Adelsons contributed $113 million to Republican and conservative campaigns during the 2018 election cycle alone.

Financial supporters have been honored with medals in the past, though usually not so close to an election. Sheldon Adelson was at the White House last week for a midterm election watch party. The Medal of Freedom honorees were announced just four days later.

Photos: A Look At This Year's 'Medal Of Freedom' Recipients

The list of recipients includes Sen. Orrin Hatch, Elvis Presley and Babe Ruth.

Philanthropist Miriam Adelson is the wife of prominent Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. The Adelsons donated more than $113 million to the GOP in the last election cycle. (Shahar Azran/Getty Images)
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, 84, is retiring after more than 40 years in Congress. He is one of the longest serving senators in American history. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a staunch supporter of President Trump, is one of the most well-known Republicans in American politics. After signing a presidential proclamation on national monuments last year, Trump handed the senator a pen to commemorate the event. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
Justice Alan Page, 73, is a former NFL player who served more than 20 years on the Minnesota Supreme Court. Over 15 years, he played for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears and went to the Super Bowl four times. (Steve Karnowski/AP)
Elvis Presley (1935-1977) is one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century, known the world over for his music and rockabilly sound. Over the course of his career, Presley earned three Grammy Awards, starred in 31 films and sold more than a billion records. (Keystone/Getty Images)
President Trump isn't the first Oval Office occupant to show his appreciation for Elvis. President Nixon met with Elvis Presley during a highly publicized visit to the White House in 1970. (National Archives/Getty Images)
George Herman "Babe" Ruth Jr. is one of the most famous baseball players in American history. From 1914 to 1935, the legendary slugger hit 714 home runs and helped establish baseball as "America's Favorite Pastime." (General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)
After shaking hands with then-President Warren Harding, Babe Ruth hit a home run to help the New York Yankees win the third game of the series. In his 15 seasons as a Yankee, Babe Ruth led the team to seven American League championships and four World Series. (Keystone/Getty Images)
Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016) was a towering figure during his 30 years on the Supreme Court. Known for his strict interpretation of the Constitution, Scalia was both a conservative icon and polarizing figure on the bench. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Roger Staubach, 76, is a Hall of Fame quarterback who played in the NFL for 11 seasons, winning two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys and making the Pro Bowl six times. He is also a noted philanthropist and businessman. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

Copyright NPR 2019.

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