Breaking with State of the Union tradition, President Trump on Tuesday paused his annual address to Congress to recognize conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh in the gallery and allow first lady Melania Trump to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The president praised Limbaugh, 69, who this week announced he is battling stage 4 lung cancer.
“Here tonight is a special man, someone beloved by millions of Americans, who just received a stage 4 advanced cancer diagnosis. This is not good news, but what is good news is that he is the greatest fighter and winner that you will ever meet,” President Trump said.
“Rush Limbaugh, thank you for your decades of tireless devotion to our country. Rush, in recognition of all that you have done for our nation, the millions of people a day that you speak to and inspire, and all of the incredible work that you have done for charity, I am proud to announce tonight that you will be receiving our country's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” he added.
The president then asked the first lady to present the decoration as Limbaugh appeared genuinely surprised.
The move was met with a standing ovation and cheers from Republicans as Democrats remained seated.
Limbaugh looked stunned for a moment and then stood up and appeared to wipe tears from his eyes, clasping his hands in front of his face.
Someone on the House floor shouted, “Thank you, Rush,” as the first lady fastened the medal’s blue ribbon around his neck.
Rush then shook Melania Trump's hand during a sustained standing ovation and pounded the left side of his chest as he looked down at President Trump, who flashed a thumbs-up and nodded from the dais.
“As we pray for all who are sick, we know that America is constantly achieving new medical breakthroughs,” the president said.
Decorating a prominent citizen with the Medal of Freedom in the middle of a joint address to Congress was an unusual move and indicated that President Trump’s speech was geared largely to energizing his Republican base ahead of November’s elections.