Biden honors McCain, denounces ‘MAGA extremists’ during Tempe event

President Joe Biden at Tempe Center for the Arts on Thursday, where he honored the late Sen. John McCain and advocated for the defense of American democracy by bashing former President Donald Trump. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

Cindy McCain at the Tempe Center for the Arts, where President Joe Biden on Thursday said that $83 million in federal funding would be put toward building a library and museum honoring the late Arizona Sen. John McCain. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

>Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs speaks during a presidential visit Thursday at Tempe Center for the Arts. Hobbs, in a statement, honored the late Sen. John McCain, saying his heroism “reflected the values of Arizona.” (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – President Joe Biden invoked the spirit of the late Sen. John McCain while denouncing “MAGA extremists” as a threat to democracy, during a speech Thursday at the Tempe Arts Center.

Biden, in town to announce the creation of a library and museum honoring McCain, cited the Arizona Republican’s willingness to cross party lines and work with Democrats – a far cry from former President Donald Trump’s supporters who he said “would fundamentally alter the institutions of American democracy as we know it.”

“I have come to honor the McCain Institute and library because they are home to a proud Republican who put country first,” Biden said. “Our commitment should be no less because democracy should unite all Americans – regardless of political affiliation.”

Arizona Republicans criticized the visit as little more than an early campaign stop by Biden, who they said should be visiting the border instead.

“While Joe Biden visits Arizona this week to meet with Democratic elected officials on a campaign push, he is showcasing how out of touch he is with the needs of everyday Americans and he’s once again choosing to ignore the disaster that we deal with on a daily basis,” Arizona Senate President Warren Peterson said Wednesday in a video posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Biden spoke for about 30 minutes to a friendly and generally well-behaved crowd of activists and elected officials that included Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, and former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. Biden was interrupted once by a protester who, before being escorted out, demanded to know why the president has not declared a climate emergency.

Cindy McCain, the late senator’s widow, introduced the president and acknowledged how Biden and her late husband were often at odds during McCain’s time in the Senate.

“While John and he (Biden) differed on many political issues through their respective careers, the great causes that brought them together and were most important to our nation are shared in this venture,” McCain said of the proposed library.

The library and museum, to be created in partnership by Arizona State University and the McCain Institute, would be similar to that of a presidential library and museum, according to a story in the New York Times. According to ASU, the library and museum will house McCain’s papers and materials from his career, as well as a visitor’s center and space for the McCain Institute – which is based in Washington, D.C.

Thursday’s visit was the second to the state in as many months for Biden, who traveled to northern Arizona in August to designate a new national monument of about 1 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon to honor Indigenous culture.

That visit also sparked Republican ire. The Arizona Senate, with permission from Peterson, filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration to stop the national monument designation, calling it a “land grab.”

Despite including a plea for nonpartisanship Thursday, Biden leaned heavily into criticism of followers of Trump’s Make America Great Again movement, particularly those he called “MAGA extremists.”

“There is no question that today’s Republican Party is driven and intimidated by MAGA extremists,” Biden said. “Their extreme agenda, if carried out, would fundamentally alter the institutions of American democracy as we know it.”

(Video by Sydney Witte/Cronkite News)

Biden also referenced recent comments by Trump and Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Bullhead City, suggesting outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley deserves to be executed. Biden urged voters to move away from politicians who promote further division in the country.

“We have to stand up for our Constitution and the institutions of democracy because MAGA extremists have made clear they won’t,” Biden said. “History is watching. The world is watching. Most important, our children and grandchildren are watching.”

Jason Rose, a political analyst based in Arizona, said it was wise for Biden to visit the state and focus on McCain – a move that helped him win the state in 2020.

“President Biden is very wise to return here to support his good friend, not just for noble reasons but political ones too,” Rose said in an emailed statement.

“McCain enthusiasts disenchanted with former President Trump’s critique of our former senator are a key reason why the President captured our critical state in 2020. It reminds us that the Ghost of John McCain remains alive and well,” his email said.

Reagan Priest Ray-gan Priest (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Reagan Priest expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Priest is interning as an education reporter at The Copper Courier. Priest has also worked at The State Press, Cronkite News D.C., The Arizona Republic and Arizona PBS.

Sydney Witte SID-nee WIH-tee (she/her)
News Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Sydney Witte expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s in mass communication. Witte has interned at KTVK/KPHO in Phoenix and KHNL/KGMB in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Kevinjonah Paguio(he/him/his)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Kevinjonah Paguio expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in global studies. He has previously interned at the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism and has freelanced.