During a White House ceremony on Thursday, July 7th, President Joe Biden awarded 17 Americans with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the country.
Among the recipients were two legislators who had previously represented Arizona: former Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords and the late Senator John McCain.
Congresswoman Giffords was born and raised in Tucson. During her political career, she was a member of the Arizona House of Representatives (2001-2003) and Arizona Senate (2003-2005). She later represented Arizona’s 8th District in the US House of Representatives (2007-2012).
Representative Giffords was the youngest woman elected to the Arizona State Senate and the third woman in Arizona’s history to be elected to US Congress. A survivor of gun violence, Giffords has since co-founded a nonprofit organization dedicated to gun violence prevention.
President Biden called the former Congresswoman one of the most courageous people he has ever known. “Your perseverance and immeasurable courage continue to inspire me and millions of others,” Biden said in a tweet.
Also during the ceremony, Biden posthumously honored Senator John McCain, and the award was accepted by Ambassador Cindy McCain, his wife.
Biden and McCain served in the US Senate together, and he regarded him as a friend. “We ran against each [other], which I didn’t like, for the highest office in the land,” he remarked, referencing the 2008 Presidential Election when Biden was a candidate for Vice President and McCain was the Republican Presidential candidate.
“I never said a negative thing about him in my life because I knew his honor, his courage, his commitment,” the president added.
In the past, McCain also received a Purple Heart with one gold star for his service in the Vietnam War.
The other recipients that night included athletes Simone Biles and Megan Rapinoe, civil rights activists Fred Gray, Khizr Khan, and Diane Nasha, actor Denzel Washington, and Brigadier General Wilma Vaught, who broke gender barriers as she rose through the ranks and became one of the most decorated women in the history of the U.S. military.
It is said that the recipients of the Medal of Freedom reflect the sitting president. To contrast, President Donald Trump gave this same award to his political allies (i.e. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and political mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh) and athletes in his favorite sport, golf.
Meanwhile, President Biden took this opportunity to highlight the achievements of those who fought for gender equality, racial equity, LGBTQ+ rights, gun violence prevention, better education, health care, and an overall better future.