President Joe Biden nominates Cindy McCain for UN ambassador-level position

·5 min read
Cindy McCain sits on the patio at her home in Phoenix Sept. 22, 2020. The wife of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) endorsed Democrat Joe Biden for president.
Cindy McCain sits on the patio at her home in Phoenix Sept. 22, 2020. The wife of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) endorsed Democrat Joe Biden for president.

Cindy McCain, who has long used her voice for humanitarian causes worldwide, is President Joe Biden’s pick as the U.S. representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, where she would help combat global hunger.

The post would take McCain — a lifelong Arizona Republican and widow of longtime U.S. Sen. John McCain, 2008 Republican presidential nominee and celebrated Vietnam prisoner of war — from her home in north-central Phoenix to Rome.

The position, which had been in the works for months, requires approval from the U.S. Senate, where her husband served for decades until his death in 2018. The White House sent the nomination to the Senate on Wednesday. 

"I am deeply honored and look forward (to) the work ahead," McCain wrote on Twitter.

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The nomination of McCain to the post comes nine months after she threw her support behind Biden, a Democrat and longtime friend. The McCains were introduced by first lady Jill Biden during a cocktail party in the late 1970s in Hawaii.

McCain, 67, cited her family’s decades-long friendship and respect for Joe Biden, who often disagreed with her husband but whose love of country remained steadfast. 

Her endorsement of Biden during the 2020 presidential race, as Arizona was up for grabs, helped Biden close his argument encouraging Republicans to cross party lines to reject GOP President Donald Trump and his polarizing politics.

Her support of the Democratic ticket earned McCain a censure from loyal Trump activists within the Arizona Republican Party, who objected to her registration as a Republican. Many of those far-right activists had long warred with the late senator over his record, and then directed their anger at her.

Outside of politics, McCain, heiress to the Hensley and Co. beer distributorship in Phoenix, is a political figure in her own right.

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She has been involved in charitable work for decades, visiting foreign countries through a nonprofit that provides surgery to children with cleft lips or palates and no access to care. As a former member of the Board of Trustees for the HALO Trust nonprofit, she traveled to impoverished nations such as Zimbabwe to advocate for the removal of land mines.

Over the years, she has raised awareness about human trafficking through the foreign-policy think tank at Arizona State University that bears her husband’s name and has advocated for civility in politics at a time of intense dysfunction. Cindy McCain chairs ASU’s McCain Institute’s advisory board of trustees, where she has helped set program priorities.

A former special-education teacher, McCain has lent her voice to charitable work to help improve early learning for young kids in Arizona. A member of the board of Project C.U.R.E., which delivers medical supplies around the world to underserved medical clinics, she has helped raise awareness and money for medical facilities in Kenya, Zambia and Ghana. 

Both of Arizona's Democratic U.S. senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, applauded the nomination.

“Cindy McCain is a demonstrated humanitarian, civic leader, and a terrific choice to represent America's work with the United Nations combatting famine and hunger crises around the world," Sinema said in a statement. "As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, Cindy's leadership will prove even more important to the world's vulnerable populations. I look forward to supporting her nomination, and I know she will make Arizona — and America — proud."

Kelly said he's long admired McCain's "dedication to service, to Arizona, and to our country. I know she believes deeply in the power of America to promote peace, security, and health around the world. I look forward to working with her and seeing the good work she will do representing the United States at the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.”

Grant Woods, a longtime family friend who worked on Capitol Hill alongside McCain’s husband, said her appointment reflects her longtime work to better humanity. 

“Cindy McCain has spent much of her life helping people in crisis around the world,” he said. “As ambassador, she will help America lead efforts to feed and aid people everywhere who just need the basics of life. She will do it with compassion and skill and, in this way, continue to change the world in a positive direction.”

As ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, McCain would take the international stage, where she would lead efforts to end world hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition and poverty. 

If confirmed, she would be dispatched to Italy to help oversee large-scale efforts to shape projects and policies tied to the sustainability of natural resources in developing countries while helping to broaden the public’s awareness about the root causes of hunger. 

The organization, which is a specialized agency of the United Nations, has more than 194 member states and works in more than 130 countries around the world, according to its website. 

The issue has taken on greater urgency in the era of COVID-19: During the global pandemic, nearly 690 million people — about 9% of the world’s population, according to the FAO — did not have enough food. 

That’s up by 10 million people in just one year, and up by nearly 60 million in five years. Women were more likely than men to face moderate or severe food insecurity, said the FAO’s report, “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020.”

Have news to share about Arizona politics? Reach the reporter on Twitter and Facebook. Contact her at yvonne.wingett@arizonarepublic.com and 602-444-4712.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Joe Biden nominates Cindy McCain for UN ambassador-level position

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