Joe Biden

Remarks After Visiting with Firefighters and Their Families on the 20th Anniversary of the September 11th Attacks and an Exchange with Reporters in Shanksville, Pennsylvania

September 11, 2021

Q: Mr. President, what is going through your mind today, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm thinking about my -- for real, this is my fourth trip here. And I was thinking about a guy named Davis Sezna that I grew up with, who, like a lot of people, are probably having a tough day today. He -- I was sitting at home watching television in 2000 and -- 2000, in September, and I was watching TV, and my kids were in the swimming pool just outside, and -- and all of a sudden came on TV this guy sitting on a bank

in the -- on the Delaware and Chesapeake Canal.

And he -- and they said he just lost his son that ran into a beam that was coming up in the D&C Canal that had been there from another, I guess, dock. And his -- he lost his 15-year-old son, Teddy. And he's on the phone, and all of a sudden, my phone rings, and he's calling me. It turned out to be my buddy, Davis Sezna, because he knew I had lost -- anyway.

And then, a year later, I got a call. His son was on the 106th floor, and he lost his son. And they called him "Deeg." He was Davis Jr.

And so, it's a tough day for him and everybody who's lost somebody.

And, you know, I know you've heard me say it before, and I'll probably get criticized for saying it again, but these memorials are really important, but they're also incredibly difficult for the people who were affected by them -- because it brings back the moment you got the phone call. It brings back that instant you got the news, no matter how many years go by.

So I've been thinking about him. I've been thinking of all the people I was -- when I was down at the rock, talking to a number of family members who lost somebody. You know, think about it -- talk about genuine heroism. I'm not talking about any -- I'm not talking about the news media now. But think of all of you, if you're on that plane, knowing two terrorists are in the cockpit. How many would say, "I got a good idea: Let's go up and rush that cabin"? Even though you knew that probably they were going to do something and you were going to lose anyway.

But it's one thing to say, "I know I should step up," and another thing to do it. That's genuine heroism. That's not "on the margins." That's not "maybe you did a heroi-…"

I mean, you know. And I just -- I just think -- I thought that President Bush made a really good speech today -- genuinely good speech -- about who we are. We're not -- the core of who we are is not divided. It's just this notion of -- I don't know how to explain it.

I think, Jeff, I talked to you a little about this. I think the real issue for those kids that -- just had a picture taken with -- couple of them had Trump hats from last year -- I think, for them, it's going to be: Are we going to, in the next 4, 5, 6, 10 years, demonstrate that democracies can work, or not?

Because I had -- just had a long -- I'm not going to discuss with you now, but I had a long conversation with President Xi for over an hour and a half -- not last night; the night before last. And I've had that one-on-one summit with Putin. And I've spoken with others.

There's a lot of autocrats who truly believe that democracies can't function in the 21st century. Not a joke. They think because the world is changing so rapidly and people are so divided, you can't bring people together in a democracy to get a consensus, and the only ones that are going to be able to succeed are the autocrats.

That's why it's so damn important we demonstrate -- everybody says, "Biden, why do you keep insisting on trying to bring the country together?" That's the thing that's going to affect our wellbeing more than anything else: how the rest of the world responds to us -- knowing that we actually can, in fact, lead by the example of our power again. And I think we can do it. We got to do it.

And so it's all tied. And meeting with these people -- you know, I know you're all tired of hearing me say, you know -- a lot of good folks on Wall Street, but they didn't build the country. Hardworking middle-class folks built this country, and the unions built the middle class. It's about time we start showing them some real respect again.

And that's why I'm hopeful. I know a lot of you think I'm just always too optimistic, but I think we're going to get major pieces of legislation through, both on a bipartisan basis, and I think we're going to get something done consequentially -- consequential on the whole issue of dealing with human infrastructure.

And we do that -- it's more than just how it's going to grow the economy in an exponential way near-term, but the rest of the world is going, "Whoa. How did he do that? I thought they didn't talk to each other."

Anyway, you asked what I was thinking. That's what I've been thinking about today.

Q: How do you get back to that state of unity that you were talking about and that President Bush was talking about, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: By being honest when I make a mistake, by being straightforward, telling people exactly what I want to do, letting them know and -- know that there's nothing -- no hiding the ball.

You know, if you take a look at the polling data, it is down -- as my numbers have dropped -- you've seen that my package is overwhelmingly popular. Overwhelmingly popular. And so that's why you're going to see -- and I get it -- a lot more direct attacks on me, not what I'm for. And that's -- I'm a big boy. I've been doing this a long time.

But I really think that, you know, so far, most people, understandably, thought I couldn't get any of this done, I couldn't get the first bill passed. We got it passed. It grew the economy, where, you know -- where, you know, the 40 percent -- anyway.

So I think it's just a matter of showing -- showing that what I'm saying, when it works, letting it -- be clear how it works, and when it doesn't work, say I'm going to change that.

But I think people are just looking for, I hope -- we'll find out -- just some straight talk: what should be done, what you believe to be done.

And I've been doing this long enough. There's, you know -- again, I apologize. For somebody who's covered me a long time, like you, you've heard me say some of this before, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I told you the story about when I won as a 29-year-old kid. Everybody said, "Well, what's the secret? What's the secret? Had to be some special secret. How the hell could I win?" (Laughs.) You know, straight up. I had to find something. And I said the secret is figuring out what's worth losing over (inaudible). What are you willing to lose over? That's your belief. If you can't figure that one out, you shouldn't run. You shouldn't do it.

And so the things that I'm pushing, I believe. I believe. Now, I'm not -- it doesn't mean I'm -- you know, everybody has to agree I'm right. I mean -- but I'm just laying out what I think has to be done to bring this country back.

You've heard me say it a thousand times: This is the most unique country in the whole damn world. We're an idea. It's an idea. It's not based on ethnicity. It's not based on geography. It's not based on religion. It's not based -- it's an idea. It really is. "We hold these truths…" I mean, we never lived up to it, but we've never walked away from it, except the last -- previous four years.

And so, you know, it would be inappropriate for me to tell you the number of serious Republicans in the past, and a few that are still around, who call me and tell me, "What can I do to help?" Because they get it too. They may not agree with everything I say, but this idea that, you know, "What do you want to do with Biden?" "I want to box him." I mean -- you know. I should be so lucky. You know what I mean?

But it is -- the kinds of things -- or, you know, the stuff that's coming out of Florida, the stuff that's coming out of -- you know, "If Robert E. Lee had been in Afghanistan, we would have won."

Anyway, I'm telling you too much.

But the point is, what I'm thinking about today is what these people who -- and I've got a piece of -- a small piece of one of the beams they have -- they gave me last time -- or not last time, but how many times ago -- and the flag they gave me. And I'm thinking of, you know, what -- what -- of the people who died, what would they be thinking? They think it makes sense for us to be in this kind of thing, where you ride down the street and someone has a sign saying "F so and so"? Or -- it's not who we are.

Q: This is the first anniversary with no war in Afghanistan anymore. Do you think this marks a new phase for the country as it experiences this anniversary 20 years later?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think -- look, I do. If you read, there was a big article with 16, 17 people. Was it in, um -- I guess it was -- what was it?

AIDE: Politico.

THE PRESIDENT: Politico. And quoting major players over the last 20 years.

And everybody -- every one of them said they're -- look, this was -- we didn't start off this way. If you had told anybody that we were going to spend 300 million bucks a day for 20 years to try to unite the country after we got bin Laden, after al Qaeda was wiped out there -- can al Qaeda come back? Yeah. But guess what? It's already back in other places.

What's the strategy? Every place where al Qaeda is we're going to invade and have troops stay there? Come on.

Anyway. So, I just think that -- and, again, what people are -- as I read it, I'm told, people -- 70 percent of the American people think it was time to get out of Afghanistan -- spending all of that money.

But the flip of it is, they didn't like the way we got out. But it's hard to explain to anybody how else could you get out.

For example, if we were in Tajikistan and we pulled up with 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. Come on.

So -- but you guys got a tough job, and I'm glad I don't have it.

So, anyway, I'm going to do my thing.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks After Visiting with Firefighters and Their Families on the 20th Anniversary of the September 11th Attacks and an Exchange with Reporters in Shanksville, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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