Our live coverage of the Medal of Freedom ceremony has ended. Catch up with the latest from the event here.
The presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony has just ended at the White House.
President Joe Biden awarded the highest civilian honor to 17 people, including Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and, posthumously, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and former Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
"This is America," Biden said as he concluded the event.
Megan Rapinoe's blazer lapel has an embroidered flower and the initials "BG" — a nod to Brittney Griner who is currently being detained in Russia.
"The most important part of today," Rapinoe, a member of the US women's national soccer team who is an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women's World Cup champion, wrote on her Instagram story with a flower emoji, showing her support for Griner.
Griner has pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian court near Moscow, her lawyers confirmed to CNN on Thursday.
Griner, whom the US State Department has classified as wrongfully detained, faces up to 10 years in prison under the charge. Supporters of the Phoenix Mercury player have called for her release over fears she is being used as a political pawn amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Actor Denzel Washington was slated to be honored with the Medal of Freedom, but he did not appear at Thursday's White House ceremony because of a positive Covid-19 result, according to a White House official.
President Biden said during the ceremony that the actor wanted to be there and will receive the award at a later date.
"There’s a man who couldn’t be here today but wanted to be: Denzel Washington, one of our greatest actors in American history. Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Tony Awards, (and) wide acclaim from audiences and peers around the world," the President said. "He couldn’t be here with us today, but I’ll be giving him this award at a later date when he’s able to get here."
President Biden is awarding the Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor – to 17 recipients at the White House. He opened up the ceremony by talking about the "extraordinary group of Americans up here on the stage."
On Monday, we celebrated the independence of our nation, a nation always a work in progress in creation of possibilities, the fulfillment of promises. That's the American story. It's not a simple one. It's never been a simple one, but the fourth of July week reminds us what brought us together long ago and still binds us, binds us at our best. We strive for — what we strive for, we, the people, doing what we can to ensure the idea of America, a cause of freedom shines like the sun to light up the future of the world. That's the soul of our nation.
That's who we are as Americans. And that's what we see, an extraordinary, extraordinary group of Americans up here on this stage that I have the honor to recognize today with the presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation's highest civilian award.
President Biden will award Sandra Lindsay, a New York nurse who the White House says was the first American to receive a Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials, with the Medal of Freedom Thursday.
Lindsay, an intensive care unit nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, received the vaccine on Dec. 14, 2020.
In an interview with CNN on Thursday before the ceremony, Lindsay said she is "so excited" to be given the honor.
She missed the phone call from the White House telling her about the award, she said.
"At first I thought it was a prank call. Why would the President of the United States be calling me, Sandra Lindsay? But then I checked my email and saw that, you know, the White House had followed up with an email, and so I knew it was real," she said.
She said she is "still very hopeful" about the United States' response to the pandemic and larger mental health issues.
"We still have some ways to go with the pandemic, but we've made significant strides and I am just grateful that I have this platform, that I can also shed light on other needs of healthcare workers. When the nation needed healing, the healthcare workers stepped up. ... Now we need healing in terms of mental health resources and also addressing other factors that relate to mental health, such as student loan debt, health equity and women's rights," she said.
Lindsay said back in 2020 that she had "no fear" and she wanted to inspire other people to trust science and get vaccinated.
“I want to be a part of the solution to put an end to this pandemic once and for all,” she told CNN. “I think also as a leader in the organization that I lead by example. I don’t ask people to do anything that I would not do myself.”
One year after getting her vaccine, as the Omicron variant was leading to skyrocketing levels of Covid-19 infections, Lindsay said she had "tremendous gratitude that I was able to get vaccinated and pride in the work that I've done so far to be an activist for vaccinations."
Lindsay also spoke out in 2021 about encountering people who she said were too “far down” the tunnel of conspiracy theories.
“I can speak on behalf of health care workers at my organization when I say that we are tired, and we're concerned, especially because we know that the public now has options,” she said.
CNN's Eric Levenson contributed reporting to this post.
Gold Star father Khizr Khan is set to get the Medal of Freedom during a ceremony at the White House.
At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Khan said that Trump “sacrificed nothing and no one,” before raising a copy of the US Constitution, asking if Trump had ever read it. Khan’s son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, died in Baghdad in 2004.
Biden appointed Khan to serve on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom last year.
Khan endorsed Biden in 2020.
CNN's DJ Judd contributed reporting to this post.
President Biden will award the Medal of Freedom to several posthumous honorees, including Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
McCain died at the age of 81 in 2018. His Washington career spanned 40 years, with him serving as a member of the Senate from 1987 until his death. He ran for president in 2000 and 2008.
The "maverick," a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, was a critic of former President Donald Trump and crossed partisan lines on occasion.
“We are not the President’s subordinates,” he said in a speech in 2017. “We are his equals.”
McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, was appointed by Biden to serve as the US Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.
Jobs died in 2011 at age 56 after battling cancer for years. The visionary cofounder of Apple staged a comeback for the company, wowing audiences and consumers while donning his signature black turtleneck during keynote events to introduce iTunes, the iPhone, the App Store and the iPad.
In the summer of 2011, Apple listed more cash reserves than the US Treasury and even briefly surpassed Exxon Mobil as the world’s most valuable company.
Laurene Powell Jobs, the founder of Emerson Collective and Steve Jobs’ widow, donated more than $700,000 to the Biden Victory Fund in 2020.
Trumka served as the head of the most powerful labor organization in the country and was a close ally of the Biden White House. He led the AFL-CIO from 2009-2021, known for his fiery rhetoric and his harsh attacks on corporate America.
President Biden is expected to award former lawmakers, including former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, with the Medal of Freedom on Thursday afternoon.
Giffords, who became an advocate for gun violence prevention after she was shot in an assassination attempt in 2011, said in a statement that she’s “humbled and honored” to receive the medal.
“Since I was shot more than 11 years ago, my personal recovery journey has taught me that it’s not the setback that defines us: it’s how we respond to it. There have been no shortage of setbacks as I relearned how to talk and how to walk, just as there have been no shortage of setbacks in the fight for gun safety that I’ve dedicated my life to. And yet I’ve never lost hope,” she said. “One of my reasons for hope sits inside the Oval Office today, elected to accomplish the near-impossible task of healing a divided nation.”
Giffords and the Giffords PAC endorsed Biden in 2020.
Simpson was a peer of Biden’s on the Senate Judiciary Committee, supporting the then-senator as he attempted to salvage his 1988 presidential campaign following a plagiarism scandal.
Simpson has warned of the growing partisanship in the Senate, citing "the bitterness that goes on." In an interview in June, Simpson called Trump, among other things, a “spoiled brat” and said that “this guy is so full of himself that he would overturn every kind of rule of law or Constitutional process because of his own ego, which is twisted.”