WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional leaders on Monday marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, holding a moment of silence at the U.S. Capitol as they recalled that brief moment when national unity prevailed over political discord.
The four top Republicans and Democrats in Congress honored the thousands of lives that were lost that day in New York and Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the country “suffered loss we could not fathom and witnessed terrorism we could never forget” when terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
The leaders spoke on the steps of East front of the Capitol, the same spot where lawmakers locked arms the evening of Sept. 11, 2001 and sang “God Bless America.” It is also the spot where insurrectionists violently broke into the Capitol building in January to try to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory — a domestic attack that has driven Republicans and Democrats even further apart, in contrast to the unity Congress found after 9/11.
Though the leaders did not speak about the Jan. 6 insurrection or current political tensions, they harkened back to a time when the nation found a shared purpose.
“We stood together, united, proud to be American,” said House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. “We flew the American flag in homes across the country to honor the first responders who lost their lives, and to celebrate the undying American values that a cowardly act of terrorism could not extinguish. That is a record of how a dark hour of American history became one of our finest hours.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the country ensured after 9/11 that “our unity and resolve runs even deeper than our sadness,” adding that Americans who said such an attack should never happen again should “remember what it takes to keep that promise.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it has been “a long road since 9/11, and our country has changed in ways we could have scarcely imagined back then.”
Still, Schumer said, “one thing does not change: our obligation to remember and honor every single American we lost that day.”
The ceremony comes as Capitol Police are preparing for a rally Saturday in defense of the insurrectionists who were charged after the Jan. 6 attack. The area where the lawmakers stood Monday morning will soon be fenced off to secure the building — and keep out the public — in the event that the protest becomes violent.
Many Republicans in Congress have downplayed the severity of the January siege by supporters of former President Donald Trump, opposing investigations of the attack and standing by Trump as he repeats falsehoods about election fraud. It is uncertain whether any lawmakers will participate in Saturday’s rally, as several did on Jan 6.
Though congressional leaders avoided direct comparisons, former President George W. Bush — who was in office on 9/11 — drew a direct connection between domestic terrorism now and the foreign terrorism that struck America then.
Speaking Saturday at the national memorial to the victims of Flight 93, who forced their hijacked airplane into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania before it could be used as a weapon in Washington, Bush warned of “violence that gathers within.”
“There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home,” he said. “But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.”