'Truly Nauseating': The Backlash After Rush Limbaugh Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom

"It's red meat to his base," progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said. "Trump knows what he's doing"

President Donald Trump‘s decision to pause his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to award radio host Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom was seen by some as an emotional tribute to an influential conservative personality. But not everyone was pleased.

In an Instagram live video, freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasted the move, saying it was “truly nauseating” and a made-for-TV “Oprah moment” that violated the tradition of one of the nation’s highest civilian honors. (Maya Angelou, Sandra Day O’Connor and Martin Luther King Jr. are all previous medal recipients.)

“First of all, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is an extraordinarily sacred award. We’re talking about putting someone on the same level as Rosa Parks, for example, in terms of their contributions to American progress,” Ocasio-Cortez, 30, said on Instagram. “Rush Limbaugh is a violent racist.”

While he was on the air on Monday, the popular and provocative radio personality announced he’d been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. The next night, he was a guest of honor at the State of the Union and receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom — a moment that left him visibly moved.

Melania Trump, Rush Limbaugh
First Lady Melania Trump places the Presidential Medal of Freedom on radio host Rush Limbaugh. MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

“Almost every American family knows the pain when a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness. Here tonight is a special man, 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,” Trump, 73, said at Tuesday’s speech as he introduced Limbaugh, 69, who was seated with his wife next to First Lady Melania Trump.

“Rush Limbaugh, thank you for your decades of tireless devotion to our country,” President Trump continued. “And Rush, in recognition of all that you have done for our nation, the millions of people a day that you speak to and that you 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.”

Ocasio-Cortez and many other liberal voices across the country pointed to Limbaugh’s past statements and political beliefs in taking issue with honoring him, however. He helped perpetuate the racist claim that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States and once called a Georgetown student a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating for birth control.

“There’s all sorts of norms that are being violated, not just for people’s humanity but also it just truly cheapens the value of it,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Instagram. “Also, him just pretending to be surprised was such a joke.”

On Twitter, director Rob Reiner also shared his displeasure with Limbaugh receiving the award. “Only one thing to say about Rush Limbaugh getting a Presidential Medal if Freedom at The State of the Union: I loathe this [f—ing] man,” he wrote.

The Daily Show host Trevor Noah also called out Limbaugh’s history of being “racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and sexist” in a segment on his Comedy Central show while playing a medley of some of Limbaugh’s most egregious comments.

Rush Limbaugh, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Ethan Miller/Getty; Anna Moneymaker/Getty

“It’s red meat to his base. Trump knows what he’s doing,” Ocasio-Cortez said on social media. “He wants to assert that Rush Limbaugh is somehow on the same level as Rosa Parks and it’s truly nauseating and this is one of the many reasons why I did not go.”

In response, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t being respectful of Limbaugh’s contributions to conservative media.

“For her to complain about a person with stage 4 cancer who for longer than she has been alive has actually saved AM radio in this country and has been responsible for creating an extraordinary voice for people who are conservative,” Huckabee said on Fox News.

Ocasio-Cortez was one of a handful of Democratic lawmakers who either refused to attend Trump’s State of the Union address of walked out while he was speaking.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi grabbed many headlines of her own when she ripped up her copy of the president’s speech just as he finished delivering his remarks.

Afterwards, Pelosi told reporters: “It was the courteous thing to do considering the alternative.”

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