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Biden says 9/11 families were in his thoughts during around-the-world travel

Vice president traveled to Ground Zero, with first lady at the Pentagon

A servicemember salutes during a ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Va., on Monday. The memorial has a bench dedicated to each of the 184 people who died in the Pentagon and aboard Flight 77 on Sept. 11, 2001.
A servicemember salutes during a ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Va., on Monday. The memorial has a bench dedicated to each of the 184 people who died in the Pentagon and aboard Flight 77 on Sept. 11, 2001. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Returning to U.S. soil after an around-the-world foreign policy trip, President Joe Biden portrayed the work as critical to remembering the lessons of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The timing of the trip would have made it impossible for the president to be in New York City, at the Pentagon or in a field in Pennsylvania, so the president headlined a Sept. 11 remembrance at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.

“I spent many 9/11s at those hallowed grounds to bear witness and remember those we lost. Every day, but especially the last few days, their memory has been with me. I’m just returning from … the G-20 summit in India, where we strengthened America’s leadership on the global stage, followed by a historic trip to Vietnam where we transformed our partnership with one of the most critical regions of the world,” the president said Monday.

The Anchorage base is a common Air Force One refueling stop during presidential travel to and from Asia. It was the last stop after an outbound refueling stop in Germany and engagements in New Delhi, India, for the meetings of the G-20, before continuing to Vietnam.

“These trips are a central part of how we’re going to ensure the United States is flanked by the broadest array of allies and partners who will stand with us to deter any threat to our security,” the president said. “To build a world that is safer for all of our children, something that today of all days we’re reminded of, is not a given.”

Biden began an extended day, which began on the other side of the international date line, concluding his trip to Vietnam with a stop at a memorial honoring his friend and former Senate colleague, the late John McCain of Arizona.

Earlier, Vice President Kamala Harris led the administration’s presence at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, joining New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and others from the tri-state area at the remembrance ceremony.

Also present was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate. In a statement, DeSantis said the Biden administration should declassify additional details of the financing of the attacks “consistent with protecting national security.”

The Florida governor was critical of the potential for a plea deal with the accused mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

“While the Biden Administration has allegedly rejected a considered plea deal over the near-term, pressure must remain so that any way forward includes public answers and maximum lawful punishment. Avoiding a public trial denies victims the justice they deserve and allows others to evade scrutiny. I urge the administration to serve justice and send an unequivocal message that such attacks on American lives will never go unanswered,” DeSantis said.

Schumer was back in Washington by Monday afternoon as the Senate reconvened for the week to begin floor debate on the first of the fiscal 2024 spending packages. He spoke on the Senate floor not only about the business of the week but also of his memories of the tragic day 22 years ago and the resolve his fellow New Yorkers showed in the aftermath.

“I’ll never forget so many scenes: One of them was a guy who owned a shoe store a few blocks north of the World Trade Center, who was just handing out shoes to everybody because many people had lost their shoes as they tried to escape from the towers. But so many different things,” Schumer said. “Everywhere I go, I always wear this pin on my lapel as a reminder of our sacred promise to never forget. I called on Americans the day after to wear and display the flag. Just about everybody did, as a sign of unity, of us coming together under an awful day, and I wear it every day. And every time I look at this flag, I think about the so many who were lost.”

With Biden crossing the Pacific on Air Force One and Harris making the visit to Ground Zero, their spouses served as delegates at events in Virginia and Pennsylvania, respectively.

First lady Jill Biden led the wreath laying at the Sept. 11 memorial at the Pentagon, at an event that also featured Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff was in Shanksville, Pa., to lay a wreath at the memorial wall. He was joined by Gov. Josh Shapiro and his wife, Lori, at the wreath laying before going to the boulder that marks the actual site of the crash of Flight 93. Emhoff also visited a local volunteer fire department, whose members answered the call to respond to the site of the crashed plane that was most likely bound for the Capitol if those onboard had not taken it down.

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