President Biden on Friday issued a call for unity in remarks observing the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, telling Americans that while they don’t have to agree, “we must have a fundamental respect and faith in each other and in this nation.”
The White House released the pre-recorded video statement by the president Friday evening ahead of Saturday’s anniversary.
Biden noted acts of heroism “in places expected and unexpected,” and recalled the “true sense of national unity” that came to the fore in the days following the tragedy.
But he also noted that the US “witnessed the darker forces of human nature; fear and anger, resentment and violence against Muslim Americans, true and faithful followers of a peaceful religion.”
The president and first lady Jill Biden touched down at LaGuardia Airport shortly before 9 p.m. on Friday, ahead of their visits Saturday to all three sites where Al Qaeda terrorists deliberately crashed hijacked airliners on Sept. 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people. Biden will not speak at any of the locations.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that the president’s video message was released “because we want you to hear from him, and he wants the American people to hear from him directly on what 9/11 means to him 20 years later, and so that’s why we’re doing it in advance of his trip tomorrow.”
Biden’s pre-taped remarks notably did not contain a single mention of the war in Afghanistan — which stemmed directly from the 9/11 attacks and was brought to a rushed and haphazard end by his administration only weeks ago.
The president also made little mention of the operation that led to the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, with the exception of passing praise of “the 9/11 generation” for “stepping up to serve and protect in the face of terror, to get those terrorists who were responsible, to show everyone seeking to do harm to America that we will hunt you down and we will make you pay, that we’ll never stop — today, tomorrow, ever – from protecting America.”
Biden did pay tribute to the families of the victims, telling them that “Jill and I hold you close in our hearts and send you our love.” He reminded them that “there are people around the world that you’ll never know who are suffering through their own losses who see you, your courage. Your courage gives them courage that they, too, can get up and keep going.”
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Biden’s decision not to deliver remarks on Sept. 11 itself is a break from his predecessors, who delivered set-piece speeches to mark significant anniversaries of that fateful day.
George W. Bush, for example, delivered a prime-time address from Ellis Island on the first anniversary of the tragedy in 2002. In his remarks, Bush vowed: “In the ruins of two towers, under a flag unfurled at the Pentagon, at the funerals of the lost, we have made a sacred promise to ourselves and to the world: We will not relent until justice is done and our nation is secure. What our enemies have begun, we will finish.”
The 43rd president, who will pay his respects Saturday at the site of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa., used the Oval Office as the setting for another prime-time address on the fifth anniversary of the attacks in 2006.
Barack Obama, who will pay tribute to the victims at the site where the World Trade Center once stood in lower Manhattan, also delivered in-person remarks on the 10th and 15th anniversaries of 9/11 in 2011 and 2016, respectively.