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Zelensky, Rep. Cheney to receive JFK Profile in Courage award

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) will be among the recipients this year of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, which is given by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation to underscore the importance of fighting for democracy.

It is also the first time the foundation is honoring five people simultaneously with the award. Other recipients this year will be Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D), Arizona House Speaker Russell “Rusty” Bowers (R) and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, an election department employee in Fulton County, Ga.

“These honorees have placed their careers and lives on the line to protect democratic principles and free and fair elections,” the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation said in announcing this year’s recipients. “They embody what President Kennedy admired most in others—political courage.”

The group praised Zelensky for leading Ukrainians “with candor and clarity” against the existential threat of Russia’s invasion. Zelensky’s “principled leadership has strengthened the resolve of Ukrainians and people around the globe to protect and defend the fragile human right of self-determination,” the foundation wrote.

For more than a year, Cheney has led a lonely campaign in the Republican Party against former president Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, criticizing her GOP colleagues for their attempts at “whitewashing” the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and warning that Trump’s claims are eroding American democracy. She later became one of only two Republicans to join the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

Speaking out against most of her own party has been costly to her: Cheney was ousted from her position as the third-ranking House Republican. She has faced persistent attacks from Trump, as well as death threats and a primary challenge in her reelection race.

And yet, the JFK Foundation stated, Cheney “refused to take the politically expedient course that most of her party embraced.”

In a statement Thursday, Cheney called the Profile in Courage Award a “tremendous honor” and cited Kennedy’s words from his 1961 inaugural address, in which he said, “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.” Cheney said the world was in another such “hour of maximum danger,” in the war between Russia and Ukraine and in protecting democratic institutions in the United States.

“President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people are teaching a new generation of Americans what our Founding Fathers learned firsthand: absolute and uncompromising courage in the face of tyranny,” Cheney said.

In the United States, she added, fragile democratic institutions would not defend themselves.

“We — each one of us — must do that,” Cheney said. “If we do not stand for truth, the rule of law and our Constitution, if we set aside our founding principles for the politics of the moment, the miracle of our constitutional republic will slip away.”

Benson, Bowers and Moss were state and local figures who defended the integrity of the 2020 election in their jurisdictions, despite Trump’s and other Republicans’ baseless claims that the vote was rigged. (No evidence has been presented showing widespread fraud that would have changed the results of the election.)

Benson, the Michigan secretary of state, refused to give in to protesters who visited her home and threatened her as a “traitor” for defending the certification of Michigan’s election results. Bowers, a Republican who voted for Trump twice, resisted a scheme to install an illegal slate of pro-Trump electors in Arizona.

“I voted for President Trump and worked hard to reelect him,” Bowers said, according to the JFK Library Foundation. “But I cannot and will not entertain a suggestion that we violate current law to change the outcome of a certified election.”

Moss, who has worked in Georgia as a full-time employee in the Fulton County Department of Registration and Elections since 2017, was falsely accused by Trump and his followers of processing fake ballots for Joe Biden.

“Moss received so many death threats and racist taunts that she was forced to change her appearance and go into hiding,” the foundation stated.

Still, Moss carried out her duties remotely and, more than a year later, continues to serve as a registration officer “doing the hard and unseen work to run our democracy,” the group said.

Members of former president Kennedy’s family started the Profile in Courage Award in 1989 to honor “politically courageous leadership” in the spirit of the title of Kennedy’s 1957 book, “Profiles in Courage.” Past honorees have included Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) in 2021, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in 2019, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in 2018 and former president Barack Obama in 2017.