Trump, Biden Use 9/11 Visits to Check Off Vital Political Box
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives before presenting the Presidential Citizens Medal during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump, Biden Use 9/11 Visits to Check Off Vital Political Box

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are signaling on Friday that their paths to the White House run through Pennsylvania, as each commemorated the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks near the town of Shanksville, where one of the hijacked planes crashed in 2001.

The president and his challenger visited at different times, avoiding a face-to-face encounter.

Both candidates see a need to spend time in Pennsylvania with just eight weeks before Election Day -- though neither side says politics was behind Friday’s visits.

Trump, Biden Use 9/11 Visits to Check Off Vital Political Box

Biden, who leads Trump in national polls but has a narrower advantage in Pennsylvania, said Friday morning that his campaign had taken down all its ads for the day in honor of the occasion.

A narrow win in Pennsylvania helped decide the presidency for Trump in 2016, ending a two-decade-long winning streak in the Keystone State by Democratic presidential candidates.

The Democratic challenger leads the president nationally by 7.5 percentage points and in Pennsylvania by 4.3 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics’ average of recent polls. Trump’s 2016 victory in Pennsylvania came by fewer than 45,000 votes out of almost 6.2 million cast.

Third Trip

Friday’s visit is the president’s third trip to Pennsylvania in three weeks. Biden will participate in a CNN town hall in his birthplace of Scranton next week, after also spending Labor Day in Harrisburg.

Trump delivered remarks Friday morning at the Flight 93 National Memorial, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump.

“We express our undying loyalty to the nearly 6 million young men and women who have enlisted in the United States Armed Forces since September 11th, 2001,” Trump said. “More than 7,000 military heroes have laid down their lives since 9/11 to preserve our freedom. No words can express the summit of their glory or the infinite depth of our gratitude.”

Those comments came after the Atlantic magazine last week published allegations that Trump disparaged dead American military service members during a 2018 visit to France. The story, in which the president was said to refer to U.S. Marines buried at a World War I-era cemetery as “losers” and “suckers,” sparked a political firestorm over his attitude toward the military.

Elbow Bump

Trump and the White House have vehemently denied the president ever made those remarks. Trump has repeatedly said he supports military service members.

Biden visited the Pennsylvania memorial site on Friday afternoon. Although he had said he would not make remarks, he greeted visitors and spoke briefly with reporters, saying that Flight 93 was an example of Americans responding to a call for bravery.

“This is a country that never, never, never, never, never gives up. Ever,” he said. “One of the marks of being an American is understanding there is something that are bigger and more important things than yourself.”

Friday morning he attended a ceremony at the Ground Zero site in New York. Vice President Mike Pence was also there, and the two men bumped elbows instead of shaking hands. They stood near New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats.

Biden’s move to pause campaign advertising on Sept. 11 followed precedents set in earlier presidential campaigns. The Trump campaign didn’t respond to a question about whether it also planned to halt ads for the day.

Altered Ceremony

This year’s Flight 93 remembrance in Pennsylvania has been altered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The ceremony, which typically lasts 90 minutes, was shortened to approximately half an hour, said Elizabeth Shope, a spokeswoman for the memorial, which is run by the National Park Service. The crash site was closed to the public starting Thursday at dusk and will remain so through the day on Friday. Victims’ families, however, were able to attend the ceremony, according to Shope.

The 9-11 anniversary falls at a perilous time for Trump’s campaign.

His handling of the coronavirus pandemic -- rated poorly by the public, according to polls -- was thrust back into the spotlight by journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, due to publish next week, which quotes Trump saying he intentionally downplayed the threat of Covid-19 to avoid creating panic.

This week, the U.S. announced it’s drawing down its troops presence in Iraq to 3,000 from 5,200. It’s a move designed to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to terminate the so-called “endless wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan that started after the Sept. 11 attacks, but also highlights that U.S. troops remain engaged in both countries.

Pointed Hearing

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is holding a hearing Friday on the U.S. security and intelligence-sharing relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Fifteen of the 19 terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia.

The hearing is sure to have a critical bent, as lawmakers have become increasingly skeptical of the Trump administration’s close ties with the Gulf monarchy after a series of provocations, including the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and civilian casualties in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

There was bipartisan outrage on the Hill following a successful effort by the administration to circumvent Congress and push through an $8 billion arms sale to the kingdom and other Middle East countries.

In December, lawmakers called for the suspension of a training program for foreign fighters after a Saudi air force officer shot and killed three U.S. service members at a Naval base in Pensacola, Florida. In 2016, Congress voted to allow U.S. citizens to sue the kingdom for its involvement in the 9-11 attacks.

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