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Giffords, McCain receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Joe Biden presented the Medal of Freedom to 17 recipients, including two from Arizona — the late U.S. Sen. John McCain and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

“On Monday we’ll celebrate the most significant gun safety law in 30 years because of them and the families like theirs all across America. Gabby is one of the most courageous people I have ever known," Biden said. 

Gabby Giffords
Gabby Giffords

Biden added that Giffords embodies the American trait of never giving up.

“Elected by the people in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona, because they trusted her. They still trust her. They believed in her. They learned as a nation, what the whole nation has learned, she’s the embodiment of the most significant single American trait: Never, ever give up," Biden said.

The former Arizona congresswoman founded the organization named Giffords to campaign for an end to gun violence and restrictions on access to guns. The Democrat almost died after she was shot in the head in January 2011 during a constituent event in Tucson.

It was the first time Biden had awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His recipient list included both living and deceased honorees, some of them representing various stages of the president's life, from the Catholic nuns who taught him as a boy growing up in Claymont, Delaware, to Republican lawmakers he served with in the Senate to a college professor like his wife, Jill, to advocates of tightening access to firearms.

Biden also recognized former Republican Sens. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and John McCain of Arizona, recalling a less partisan era of Washington in which members of different parties would argue over issues during the day and then meet over dinner at night.

Biden recounted his long friendship with McCain, lamenting having to run against him in the 2008 presidential campaign.

“I never stopped admiring John — never said a negative thing about him in my life because I knew his honor, his courage, his commitment. That was John McCain," Biden said.

McCain died of brain cancer in 2018. He spent more than five years in captivity in Vietnam while serving in the U.S. Navy. He later represented Arizona in the House and Senate, and was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, competing against Democrats Barack Obama and Biden.

McCain’s wife Cindy, who is currently the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, accepted the award on her husband’s behalf.

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Scott Daniels was an intern at KJZZ in 2022.