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Biden, Clintons remember Albright, and her warnings about threats to democracy

President credits former secretary of State for NATO's strength today

President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama attend the memorial service for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama attend the memorial service for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Generations of dignitaries, including three U.S. presidents and many members of Congress, gathered Wednesday to remember the late Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who died last month at age 84.

President Joe Biden said in remarks at Washington National Cathedral that he learned of Albright’s passing while he was en route to Europe to reaffirm the NATO alliance in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

It was not lost on him, Biden said, that the former secretary “was a big part of the reason NATO was still strong and galvanized as it is today.”

The president recalled working with Albright when he was in the Senate on foreign policy challenges the U.S. faced during the Clinton administration.

“As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from the time I was a kid,” Biden said, “I can attest that Madeleine, with the significant help of the president of the United States, kept the committee really busy. And our work to halt genocide in the Balkans, to support new democracies in eastern and central Europe, to develop Plan Colombia and all those undertakings, Madeleine was an incomparable ally and adviser beyond the president, to me and to others on the committee.”

Biden would be joined in offering tributes by former President Bill Clinton, under whom Albright served as secretary of State, and former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“She mentored generations of rising foreign policy experts, the quote, ‘foreign policy establishment.’ You know, and the thing that I noted that was deliberate and remarkable about her, not unlike Secretary Clinton, was that she made sure that young women knew they belonged at every single table having to do with national security, without exception,” Biden said.

When he was not speaking, Biden sat alongside former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama.

The list of attendees was a who’s who of current and former Washington dignitaries and members of the diplomatic corps, Albright’s family and former staffers, and leaders from around the world.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska led the list of Republicans on the list of expected attendees. Sullivan, an honorary pallbearer, is the leader of the International Republican Institute, which works closely with the National Democratic Institute, long led by Albright.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was among those offering readings. Rice’s parents were friends of Albright, and Rice, a Republican, grew up with the Albright children. Former President Donald Trump did not attend.

Hillary Clinton was among the speakers to highlight an often-told story about Albright, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations before becoming secretary of State, teaching the Macarena to the representative from Botswana in New York.

On a more serious note, both Clintons referenced a final phone call with Albright, who died March 23, in which she spoke of the importance of supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invading forces.

“As Bill said, during the last phone call, two weeks before she died, she talked about the importance of what President Biden is doing to rally the world against Putin’s horrific invasion of Ukraine, and the urgent work of defending democracy at home and around the world,” Clinton said.

She then turned to Albright’s 2018 book “Fascism: A Warning,” published during Trump’s time in the White House, about the risks of authoritarianism coming even to the shores of the United States.

Clinton referenced the Bible’s lesson that “For everything there is a season.”

“If Madeleine were here with us today, she would also remind us this must be a season of action,” Clinton said. “And yes, once again, we must heed the wisdom of her life and the cause of her public service: Stand up to dictators and demagogues from the battlefields of Ukraine to the halls of our own Capitol, defend democracy at home just as vigorously as we do abroad.”

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