U.S. House members voted to award the highest honor Congress can give civilians, the Congressional Gold Medal, to five groups of war heroes, Israel’s President Shimon Peres and golf legend Jack Nicklaus.
The House passed a measure yesterday honoring Nicklaus, winner of 18 major tournaments, more than any other golfer, by a 371-10 vote. Lawmakers also approved the Peres honor by voice vote. Both measures now go to the Senate for approval.
Peres would be the first Israeli president to receive the honor. Nicklaus would be the third professional golfer to receive the award, following Byron Nelson in 2006 and Arnold Palmer in 2009.
Members of the House of Representatives House also voted to award a medal to the “Monuments Men,” a World War II platoon formed to protect, repair and repatriate valuable works of art damaged or stolen by the Nazis that Sony Pictures turned into a movie of the same name.
The House also passed bills to honor the “Doolittle Tokyo Raiders” who flew bombing raids over Japan in World War II, World War II members of the Civil Air Patrol, and the “Borinqueneers” 65th Infantry Regiment.
The first Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to George Washington by the Continental Congress in 1776, less than four months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The medals initially were awarded only to war heroes, including John Paul Jones and Oliver Hazard Perry. Later recipients included aviator Charles Lindbergh, inventor Thomas Edison, crooner Frank Sinatra, entertainment magnate Walt Disney and civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Entertainer Bob Hope, an avid golfer whose comedic routines often were delivered while he clutched a club, was honored in 1962.
By rule, such honors can’t be taken up without overwhelming agreement. The bills for the medals must be sponsored by at least two-thirds of the House -- the Peres measure had almost 300 cosponsors in the 435-member House.
Gold medals for professional golfers have had a troubled history in recent years. A bill to present the medal to Tiger Woods was filed in six consecutive sessions, and didn’t advance.
The Nicklaus effort comes from his home state of Ohio. Republican Pat Tiberi sponsored the House bill, H.R. 2203, and Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, introduced a similar measure in the Senate. Tiberi, in a statement issued while introducing the bill, called the golfer known as the Golden Bear a “living legend.”
The House voted to award a gold medal to Nicklaus in 2012, in a lopsided 373-4 vote. The four opponents split on why -- two said such medals should be reserved for military heroics and two others said Congress should have better things to do with its time. The Senate never took up the measure.
The opposition increased to 10 in yesterday’s vote, all of them Republicans.