The Washington Post Sunday

Biden quietly marks milestone anniversar­y of 9/11 attacks

The president chose not to give formal remarks during the memorials

- BY SEUNG MIN KIM seung-min.kim@washpost.com

A solemn President Biden on Saturday marked two decades since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, leading a day of nationwide grief and remembranc­e at all three sites of the terrorist attacks and emphasizin­g the importance of memorializ­ing the painful assault that left nearly 3,000 people dead.

Biden deliberate­ly stayed in the background as he participat­ed in the anniversar­y of the attacks for the first time as the nation’s commander-in-chief, a milestone that came less than a month after he formally ended the war in Afghanista­n launched in response to the attacks.

Biden began his day at the Sept. 11 memorial in Lower Manhattan, alongside dozens of other political dignitarie­s including former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He later traveled to Shanksvill­e, Pa., to meet privately with family members of the victims of Flight 93 and finally, to the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Va., to participat­e in another wreath laying ceremony.

“These memorials are really important,” Biden told reporters in Shanksvill­e. “But they’re also incredibly difficult for the people affected by them, because it brings back the moment they got the phone call, it brings back the instant they got the news, no matter how years go by.”

In comments to reporters in Pennsylvan­ia, Biden also heralded the bravery of passengers who wrestled the hijackers aboard the United Airlines flight, which the terrorists had intended to crash into the U.S. Capitol.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘I know I should step up,’ it’s another thing to do it,” Biden said. “That’s genuine heroism.”

The events in New York took place under a brilliant blue sky reminiscen­t of the weather in the city 20 years ago. Wearing a blue ribbon and an American flag on his lapel and a black mask on his face, Biden greeted other former presidents, spoke privately with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and shook hands with other lawmakers in attendance, including an enthusiast­ic Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.).

He listened as family members of some of the nearly 3,000 killed in the attacks somberly read their names and moments of silence were held.

Biden chose not to deliver formal remarks as he participat­ed in the memorials. Instead, he delivered a message through a six-minute video released Friday evening, calling for unity amid a time of deep political divisions and paying tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. In Shanksvill­e on Saturday, Vice President Harris delivered remarks that echoed Biden’s message of unity.

“On the days that followed Sept. 11, 2001, we were all reminded that unity is possible in America,” Harris said in Shanksvill­e. “We were reminded, too, that unity is imperative in America. It is essential to our shared prosperity, our national security, and to our standing in the world.”

After concluding her remarks, Harris paused and scanned some of the inscriptio­ns at the Wall of Names memorial, where dozens of white marble stones feature the names of passengers and crew members of Flight 93. She then laid wreaths with some of the families at a private ceremony at the site where the United Airlines plane crashed, known as the Sacred Ground. Biden and first lady Jill Biden later did the same when they visited the rural Pennsylvan­ia memorial.

In his video message, Biden had largely assumed the role of consoler-in-chief, focusing on memorializ­ing the Sept. 11 victims and sharing in the nation’s 20-year grief as he discussed a close friend who lost his eldest son in the terrorist attacks. The war in Afghanista­n, and the chaotic final U.S. withdrawal from it last month, were largely unmentione­d in the video.

Asked about it by reporters on Saturday, Biden defended the withdrawal from Afghanista­n.

“It’s hard to explain to anybody, how else could you get out,” he said. “For example, if we were in Tajikistan and pulled up a C-130 and said we’re going to let, you know, anybody who was involved with being sympatheti­c to us to get on the plane, you’d have people hanging in the wheel well. C’mon.”

While in Pennsylvan­ia, Biden also praised the speech delivered by former president George W. Bush, who earlier in Shanksvill­e forcefully warned about the growing threat of domestic terrorism, arguing that it could ultimately be as dangerous as terrorist activities from abroad.

“There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home,” Bush said during his remarks. “But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determinat­ion to defile national symbols — they are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our continuing duty to confront them.”

Meanwhile, in a statement released Saturday morning, Obama praised the “selflessne­ss and courage” of Americans that was evident not just after the Sept. 11 attacks, but in the years since, particular­ly with the medical profession­als caring for the ill amid the pandemic and emergency responders combating natural disasters.

“9/11 reminded us how so many Americans give of themselves in extraordin­ary ways — not just in moments of great crisis, but every single day,” Obama said. “Let’s never forget that, and let’s never take them for granted.”

Conspicuou­sly absent among the line of former living presidents at formal events was Donald Trump, who instead released a video that spent as much time commemorat­ing the terrorist attacks and its victims as it did criticizin­g his successors handling of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanista­n after two decades at war. He later met with firefighte­rs and police officers in an impromptu visit in New York.

“Joe Biden and his inept administra­tion surrendere­d in defeat,” said Trump, who was also spending the anniversar­y offering color commentary at a boxing match in Florida featuring former heavyweigh­t champion Evander Holyfield.

“These memorials are really important. But they’re also incredibly difficult for the people affected by them, because it brings back the moment they got the phone call, it brings back the instant they got the news.” President Biden, speaking to reporters during his visit to Shanksvill­e, Pa., on Saturday.

 ?? DEMETRIUS FREEMAN/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? President Biden and first lady Jill Biden lay a wreath during a visit to the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., on Saturday. The commander-in-chief deliberate­ly chose to stay in the background as he participat­ed in the anniversar­y of the attacks, a milestone that came less than a month after he formally ended the war in Afghanista­n.
DEMETRIUS FREEMAN/THE WASHINGTON POST President Biden and first lady Jill Biden lay a wreath during a visit to the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., on Saturday. The commander-in-chief deliberate­ly chose to stay in the background as he participat­ed in the anniversar­y of the attacks, a milestone that came less than a month after he formally ended the war in Afghanista­n.

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