Giffords, McCain among latest recipients of Presidential Medal of Freedom

Former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords and the late U.S. Senator John McCain are two of 17...
Former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords and the late U.S. Senator John McCain are two of 17 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Photos courtesy of and's Family)
Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 9:40 AM MST|Updated: Jul. 7, 2022 at 11:08 AM MST
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WASHINGTON (3TV/CBS 5/AP) — President Joe Biden will present the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to 17 people on Thursday, including former Democratic U.S. House member from Arizona Gabby Giffords and the late John McCain, the Arizona Republican Senator.

Two Arizona legislators will receive the medal, along with many others.

Biden’s honors list includes both living and deceased honorees from the worlds of Hollywood, sports, politics, the military, academia, and civil rights and social justice advocacy who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant endeavors.

McCain, who died of brain cancer in 2018, spent more than five years in captivity in Vietnam while serving in the U.S. Navy. He later represented Arizona in both houses of Congress and was the Republican presidential nominee in 2008. Biden said McCain was a “dear friend” and “a hero.” Gabrielle Giffords, in addition to serving in the House of Representatives, founded Giffords, an organization dedicated to ending gun violence. She was shot in the head in January 2011 during a constituent event in Tucson and was gravely wounded. Giffords posted the following message on Twitter last week when the recipients were announced:

I’m so very humbled and honored to receive this award. Since I was shot more than 11 years ago, my personal recovery journey has taught me that it’s not the setback that defines us: it’s how we respond to it. There have been no shortage of setbacks as I relearned how to talk and how to walk, just as there have been no shortage of setbacks in the fight for gun safety that I’ve dedicated my life to. And yet I’ve never lost hope...On April 7, 2013, when I stood side by side with then-President Obama and then-Vice President Biden in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook and failed gun safety legislation, I knew that despite our shared heartbreak, my friend Joe and I were just getting started. Nearly a decade later, President Biden signed into law the first major gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years.

Gabrielle Giffords

To read the former Congresswoman’s full statement, click here.

Congressman Greg Stanton, from Arizona’s 9th congressional district, also praised the decision to honor the former lawmakers.

“John McCain and Gabby Giffords have shown us all what it means to live a life of tremendous courage that exemplifies the very best of America. Both of them personified a true Arizona spirit by demonstrating that we are not defined by what may knock us down, but rather by how we get back up.

After spending nearly six years in a prisoner of war camp, Senator McCain was unrelenting in his service to our country and a purpose greater than any single person. When the unthinkable happened to Congresswoman Giffords, she rose with courage and limitless strength to serve as a voice of moral clarity, and continues to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.”

Rep. Greg Stanton

Other medal recipients are as follows:

  • Denzel Washington: double Oscar and Golden Globe-winning actor, director, and producer. He has also been awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award and is a longtime spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
  • Simone Biles: most decorated U.S. gymnast in history, having won 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. She is an outspoken advocate on deeply personal issues such as athletes’ mental health, children in foster care, and sexual assault victims.
  • Sandra Lindsay: New York City nurse who rolled up her sleeve on live television in December 2020 to receive the first COVID-19 vaccine dose pumped into an arm in the U.S.
  • Sister Simone Campbell: member of the Sister of Social Service and former executive director of NETWRK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is an advocate for economic justice, overhauling the U.S. immigration system and health care policy.
  • Julieta Garcia: former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville and the first Latina to become a college president. She was named one of the nation’s best college presidents by Time magazine.
  • Fred Gray: one of the first Black members of the Alabama Legislature after the Reconstruction and the civil rights attorney who represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP, and Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Steve Jobs: co-founder, chief executive, and chair of Apple Inc. who died in 2011.
  • Father Alexander Karloutsos: assistant to Archbishop Demetrios of America and counselor to several U.S. presidents.
  • Khizr Khan: immigrant from Pakistan whose son was killed in Iraq and a target of former President Donald Trump’s wrath after he spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
  • Diane Nash: founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and an organizer of some of the most important 20th-century civil rights campaigns alongside Dr. King.
  • Megan Rapinoe: Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup soccer champion. She captains the OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League and is an outspoken advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice, and LGBTQI+ rights.
  • Alan Simpson: retired U.S. senator from Wyoming and a prominent advocate for campaign finance reform, responsible governance, and marriage equality.
  • Richard Trumka: president of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO for more than 10 years before his death in August 2021. He was a past president of the United Mine Workers.
  • Wilma Vaught: brigadier general who is one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history, breaking gender barriers by rising through the ranks. At the time of her retirement in 1985, she was one of only seven female generals in the Armed Forces.
  • Raúl Yzaguirre: civil rights advocate and president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza for 30 years. He served as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic under former President Barack Obama.

Biden himself is a medal recipient. President Obama honored his service as a U.S. senator and vice president by awarding him the medal in January 2017, a week before they left office.