Biden recalls friendship with McCain, lauds Giffords during Medal of Freedom presentation

Jul 7, 2022, 1:34 PM

President Joe Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Cindy McCain, who accepted on beh...

President Joe Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Cindy McCain, who accepted on behalf of her late husband John, and Gabby Giffords on July 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images Photos)

(Getty Images Photos)

PHOENIX – President Joe Biden recalled his friendship with John McCain and lauded Gabby Giffords for her courage while presenting the prominent Arizona political figures with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday.

Giffords, a former congresswoman, and McCain, a longtime U.S. senator who died in 2018, were among 17 Americans chosen by Biden to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor during a ceremony at the White House.

Cindy McCain accepted the medal on behalf of her husband, who was the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, when Biden was on the Democratic ticket as vice president.

During the ceremony, Biden shared personal stories about his relationship with John McCain. The two were longtime friends despite representing opposing parties.

Biden said he encouraged McCain to first run for office “because I knew what incredible courage, intellect and conscience he had.”

The president also recounted how he and wife Jill introduced John and Cindy to each other in the late 1970s.

“He still owes me,” Biden said, drawing laughs and applause. “I think it’s the best thing we ever did for John. The very best.”

Cindy McCain currently serves as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture for the Biden administration.

Biden acknowledged Giffords and her husband, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, for their advocacy work on gun violence prevention since she survived a 2011 assassination attempt in Tucson.

“On Monday, we’ll celebrate the most significant gun safety law in 30 years because of them and because of the families like theirs all across America,” he said.

“Gabby is one of the most courageous people I have ever known.”

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted his congratulations, calling the medal “a fitting honor for these two amazing Arizonans.”

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema also issued a statement congratulating her fellow Arizonans.

“John and Gabby both represent integrity, resilience, and strength, all of which are values worthy of earning America’s highest civilian honor. Arizona – and America – is proud,” Sinema said.

U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton called the presentation “a great honor for two great Arizonans.”

Raúl Yzaguirre, a civil rights advocate and former U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, was a third recipient with Arizona ties. He served as presidential professor of practice in community development and civil rights at Arizona State University.

Here are the other new Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients:

  • Simone Biles: Decorated Olympic champion gymnast.
  • Sister Simone Campbell: Catholic social justice advocate.
  • Julieta García: First Hispanic woman to serve as a college president.
  • Fred Gray: Alabama attorney who represented Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and others in the civil rights movement.
  • Steve Jobs: Late entrepreneur and inventor who co-founded Apple.
  • Father Alexander Karloutsos: Former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
  • Khizr Khan: Gold Star father.
  • Sandra Lindsay: New York nurse and the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside trials.
  • Diane Nash: Civil rights activist and Freedom Rider.
  • Megan Rapinoe: Olympic soccer gold medalist and U.S. Women’s World Cup champion.
  • Alan Simpson: Former U.S. Senator from Wyoming who championed marriage equality.
  • Richard Trumka: Late labor leader and advocate for social and economic justice.
  • Brigadier General Wilma Vaught: Trailblazing former military leader.
  • Denzel Washington: Award-winning actor and longtime spokesman for Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

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Biden recalls friendship with McCain, lauds Giffords during Medal of Freedom presentation