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America Remembers The Lives Lost In The September 11th Attacks; Nation Honors The Fallen And Heroes Of September 11th; Soon: Biden Attends Memorial In Shanksville, Pennsylvania; Bush Laments Nations Division, Calls For Unity Of 2001; Alan Jackson Reflects On Timeless Song He Wrote After 9/11. Aired 12-1p ET
Aired September 11, 2021 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (on camera): Welcome back to CNN's special coverage on this 20th anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. A day that changed the United States and much of the world forever.
I'm Jake Tapper live in Lower Manhattan, along with Wolf Blitzer who is at the Pentagon, Paula Reid in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 went down.
TAPPER (voice-over): Here at the National September 11th Memorial, the two reflecting pools represent the footprints of the Twin Towers: the North and South Towers. Surrounded by the names of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, and also, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Families of the heroes who are lost, elected leaders from across the country, including four U.S. presidents past and present attending ceremonies in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania today.
President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrived in -- will arrive in Shanksville at any moment. They're going to lay a wreath, we're told, at the Flight 93 Memorial.
There they are moments ago just getting off in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. And the last hour we heard from former President George W. Bush, who was president, obviously, on 9/11, 20 years ago. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke as well.
U.S. military leaders led the ceremony or earlier this morning at the Pentagon, which is -- which was also struck, honoring the lives lost, the sacrifice of so many families, not only that day but in the 20 years that followed in the war on terror. Most recently, it was 13 Marines at the Kabul airport.
TAPPER (on camera): Let's go right to CNN's Laura Jarrett right now. She is also in Lower Manhattan.
Laura, tell me -- tell me about the scene today. Tell me what you saw. LAURA JARRETT, CNN EARLY START ANCHOR (on camera): Yes, Jake, as we've all been listening and watching here, it's been a very emotional morning here at Ground Zero, as so many families coming in person here to Ground Zero to pay tribute -- tearful tribute in so many cases to the loved ones that they lost 20 years ago today.
You know, it's been a reminder that this wasn't just a national tragedy, Jake. It was a deeply personal one for so many of these family members. As we've heard, fathers, and sisters, and mothers, and brothers, and cousins and nephews, talk about their loved ones, and bring them back to life, to talk about what their laughs sounded like, talk about what their personalities were like, talk about what their lives were like while they were living here on Earth.
As I mentioned, just so much emotion here in the day, even from children, grandchildren, who never met the people that they were grieving and get have heard so much about these people for the last 20 years.
It's also been a story of just immense heroic actions and bravery in the -- in the face of the unthinkable. We heard from a father talk about his daughter, Sara Low, who was a flight attendant on Flight 11 that hit one of these towers.
And we -- you know, we heard so much from family members about just sort of the everyday grief that they've -- that they've been facing, grief that they carry with them as if it was just so fresh as if they just received the news.
As you mentioned, President Biden was here in attendance, along with a host of other dignitaries. But really the centerpiece of the day, Jake, has been about the families, what they've lost.
Were now some four hours into this service. It's still ongoing back here, and they're still reading the names almost a temporal reminder of, if you will, of the loss of nearly 3,000 people. Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Laura Jarrett, thank you so much.
CNN's Paula Reid is live for us in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, not far from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the western part of the state where President Biden has just arrived. Paula, tell us what you've seen.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Really an incredible tribute here today at the national memorial to Flight 93. Of course, Flight 93 was one of the four commercial airliner hijacked on 9/11. But it did not reach its intended target, which is believed to have been the U.S. Capitol because the 40 passengers and crew members aboard that flight banded together and stormed the cockpit.
So, instead of crashing in Washington, DC, that Flight crashed here in a field in rural Pennsylvania. And it is that unity that has really been the theme here today.
Vice President Kamala Harris and former President George W. Bush both gave remarks in tribute to the lives lost. And I think it's really going to be the former president's remarks that people are really going to be talking about because he touched on this idea of unity, and the unity that he saw when he was leading the country in the days following 9/11. And he also said specifically that he believes that the threat of domestic terror, domestic extremism is just as significant as any foreign extremist threat and apparent reference, of course, to the January 6th insurrection.
REID: Now, Vice President Kamala Harris, she also sees on this theme of unity and how it was really embodied by the collective action of those aboard Flight 93.
Now, as you may or may not be able to see behind me, there, all these chairs are empty, and that is because at the conclusion of this memorial, they actually opened a ceremonial gate for family members and friends of those who are lost to go and visit the crash site. And take that so poignant, because it has really been the family members and the friends who have been fighting to get this memorial.
Some of them believe that what happened here in Shanksville is often forgotten. In the larger conversation about 9/11, the most of the attention is on the World Trade Center or on the Pentagon. And they have been fighting for years to create this memorial. And it's finally finished.
And it is quite remarkable, the National Park Service oversees this center, and you can come here and learn more about the sacrifices that were made, and arguably the lives that were saved that day.
Now, President Biden has just arrived. He is not expected to give remarks, but he is expected to lay a wreath. And it's notable that the only current or former president we will hear from today is, of course, former President George W. Bush, who was leading the country on 9/11. And his remarks today incredibly poignant, and I think a lot of people are going to be talking about them in the days to come.
TAPPER: All right, Paula Reid in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Thank you so much.
Let's talk about those comments from former President Bush in Shanksville, in which he talked about that the threat to this country -- the terrorist threat is not just from abroad, it is also from within.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, 43rd PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within.
There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Their determination to defile national symbols, former President Bush said. Let's bring in Garrett Graff, CNN contributor and the author of The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11.
Also with us, Juliette Kayyem, CNN national security analyst and former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
And Juliette, let me start with you. Because I checked with somebody close to the former president, am I reading this right? When he talks about defiling national symbols, is he talking about the January 6th insurrectionists, the MAGA terrorists? And he said not exclusively, but definitely.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (on camera): Definitely. And I think we -- it's a remarkable moment for him to provide the connective tissue of these 20 years. This is -- and we can't forget that, that the hate and the -- and the hatred of pluralism and diversity that the U.S. represents is a connective tissue from 9/11 to 1/6. So, I thought that was important.
And we -- those of us in counterterrorism believe that to be true. There is the domestic international divide doesn't really apply. I mean, that these terrorists learn tactics from each other, they figured it out how to expose vulnerabilities.
But I also took President Bush to tell us a warning. Maybe a warning he didn't heed before 9/11. People were telling President Bush that the -- that the red lights were going off. And in some ways, if we underestimated al-Qaeda on September 10th, do not underestimate this threat in America right now.
And that's essentially what the former president of the United States was saying about him and a former president from his party.
TAPPER: And just to be clear, we're not equating January 6th with 9/11. Obviously, they're very remarkably different events.
But the former president, Garrett was very clearly saying that there is a domestic terrorist threat from within. They might not have the same ideology, white supremacists or far-right extremists are not the same as al-Qaeda or ISIS.
GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (on camera) Yes.
TAPPER: But they don't like pluralism, they want to attack national symbols.
GRAFF: And I also think it's impossible to disentangle the ideology of January 6th, from the political forces unleashed inside the United States after 9/11.
TAPPER: As a result.
GRAFF: That the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, nativist, nationalist politics that we have seen really come to the fore of a lot of Republican politics these days, sort of power a lot of the MAGA movement are a direct result of the political force that sort of unleashed by the U.S. response to 9/11.
GRAFF: And I -- and I actually do agree with President Bush that I think there is a very straight line that you can draw from the U.S. response to 9/11 to the insurrection on January 6th.
TAPPER: Yes. And while we're on the subject of domestic terrorism --
TAPPER: The Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said something to Wolf that I don't think was entirely accurate.
TAPPER: He said -- I'm paraphrasing now, but he said something along the lines of like, since 9/11, the United States has not been attacked, especially not from that region.
TAPPER: Meaning, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, I suppose. Because that's where most of the hijackers came from in the last 20 years. That's not an accident. That's not accurate.
TAPPER: Now, if he wants to say, no major attack, no act -- no attack of that size --
TAPPER: Nothing directed by Osama bin Laden, OK, he can qualify it. But we've seen any number of terrorist attacks inspired by al-Qaeda, inspired by ISIS.
KAYYEM: Exactly. And I think it's important that we make sure people understand that the goal after 9/11, the counterterrorism goal was stopping or thwarting or preventing or delay a terrorist attack of the magnitude that we saw on September 11th, organized by al-Qaeda.
That is the reason why we went into Afghanistan. That got muted over time, as we now know, in the United States. But there have been, and then, so did the terror threat, you know, from al-Qaeda to ISIS, to any number of what we would call lone wolf threats.
So, we are still vulnerable. And we are still -- we've been -- we've always been vulnerable. I mean -- and the way we need to think about the terror threat now is how do we minimize the risk so that we don't face a same kind of sort of death and destruction that we saw on September 11.
And in that regard, our counterterrorism efforts have been successful. So, I understand what the Secretary meant.
KAYYEM: But it is important to say we still -- we still live with a threat, and we need to keep up our defenses and continue with the intelligence and other efforts, especially because of what's happening in Afghanistan, where we will not have the same capabilities in parts of the world where al-Qaeda and ISIS are.
TAPPER: Yes, and the reason the three of us thought this is important to discuss is because what we're talking down here is not just a group of violent extremists, and not with al-Qaeda or ISIS. It's an ideology.
TAPPER: It's an ideology. And if one thinks, oh, this kindly soldier cannot possibly be inspired by al-Qaeda. And then you miss the signals, and then he kills a number of soldiers at Fort Hood, or this Saudi that we're letting into the country shoots a bunch of Americans at a Pensacola airbase, which both of those were al-Qaeda inspired, not to mention ISIS.
GRAFF: Yes. And I think that this is part of the way that al-Qaeda and the threat from al-Qaeda and its adherence, and franchises has evolved since 9/11. Is al-Qaeda has learned, sort of subsequent generations of terrorists have learned that you don't need to dispatch terrorists to the United States anymore to carry out these plots.
That when we sort of look at these plots, they are people who are sort of by-and-large, radicalized at home inside the United States, sort of people already with, you know, U.S. passports or U.S. green cards inside the United States.
And if that's a really important shift in the way that al-Qaeda operates and sort of the subsequent generations of al-Qaeda operate.
TAPPER: Yes, and ISIS with the San Bernardino shooters, the Pulse nightclub shooters. This is --
KAYYEM: They do not train.
TAPPER: Yes. And it's a --
KAYYEM: Yes. TAPPER: And it's a devious ideology.
TAPPER: Whether we're talking about white, extremist, nationalist, racist politics, or Islamists. These are -- these are ideologies, and it can be (INAUDIBLE) for.
KAYYEM: Right. And what animates them is this sense of displacement. Right? As we talk a lot about the great replacement theory is this sense that their identity is threatened by something else.
That's what animates al-Qaeda and ISIS and now is the former president said, you know, the sort of, you know, the insurrectionist or the group of 1/6.
KAYYEM: And so that just -- that sense that you're losing something that aggrievement justifies violence.
TAPPER: The Tree of Life shooter, the El Paso shooter. Sick ideologies that we need to look out for.
KAYYEM: And is -- yes.
TAPPER: Not just individuals coming in from other countries.
Coming up next, President Biden will lay a wreath in Shanksville to honor the heroes who were passengers and crew on that flight.
Plus, we're going to hear from two government officials who were inside the White House and Congress on 9/11, 2001.
This is CNN's special live coverage. Stay with us.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (on camera): Few people know what it's like to be a senior government official during a major terror attack, let alone the biggest in U.S. history.
Our next two guests I know that feeling all too well as they live firsthand the chaos that consumed the U.S. Capitol on that fateful day.
Joining us now the former Congresswoman from California, Jane Harman. And Anita McBride, she is the former chief of staff to the then-First Lady Laura Bush. Thanks to both of you for joining us.
And Jane, I want to ask both you this question. First to you, Jane. How are you feeling this morning? How are you feeling right now, exactly 20 years after this attack? JANE HARMAN, FORMER REPRESENTATIVE OF CALIFORNIA: I'm fairly sad. I think your coverage, especially right now on the Shanksville piece, which directly affected the fact that the Capitol wasn't hit as I headed toward it on that morning is sobering.
I'm thinking about the future for my kids and grandkids. I'm hoping we've learned some lessons. I think we have, I think we have made the country safer in large terms, but we're still vulnerable from within, which is something that George W. Bush just said.
And in some ways, the tribalism that we were very inefficient and ineffective in confronting in Afghanistan has (INAUDIBLE) on American, too. (INAUDIBLE). And more (INAUDIBLE) in our tribe, and we're all fighting each other, that was not present on 9/11.
BLITZER: It certainly wasn't.
Anita, let me remind our viewers, you were there at the White House when this terror attack happened. Tell us about that day, what it was like, and what you're going through today?
ANITA MCBRIDE, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH: Yes. You know, like Jane, actually, I'm feeling very sad too. People primarily too, because always leading up to 9/11, its emotional timing getting through the day and watching all of the ceremonies honoring the dead and the surviving families at all of these sites.
But also what has unfolded, you know, in Afghanistan over these last two weeks. And it really does come crashing down on all of us just how vulnerable, you know, we still are. But that morning at the White House started at a relatively calm day because the president was traveling. He was in Florida doing an event for the pending legislation in Congress on No Child Left Behind.
Laura Bush was up at the Capitol to do a briefing to Senator Kennedy's, you know, committee on education reform. But what unfolded in a very short period of time, you know, with the vice president, of course, being hustled to the bunker, the staff being told to take off their shoes and run for their lives, the chaos of the departure out of the White House was stunning, and of course, was unprecedented in history.
BLITZER: And Jane, I know you were a key member of the House Intelligence Committee, you've written that you were part of an actual team that had warned at the time of a potential terrorist attack. What was going through your mind that day?
HARMAN: So, Juliette Kayyem, who was in an earlier segment on your broadcast, and I, were members of the National Commission on Terrorism. I'm the only one who was out of Congress first, but then back in Congress, while that happened.
And we predicted a major attack on U.S. soil. And just the day before 9/10, 2001, I had lunch with the chairman of the commission, and we were lamenting the fact that no one was paying attention to our recommendations.
We had testified before congressional committees, we had had other public events to try to get people to focus on this thing.
But on that morning, just to amplify what Anita was saying, I was walking toward the dome of the Capitol because that is where the Intelligence Committee rooms were.
I was a co-chair of a special subcommittee of the Intelligence Committee on Terrorism with Saxby Chambliss became senator later, but then was a congressman, and we were going to meet in the dome of the Capitol.
If that plane had not gone down in Shanksville, most people think it, by this time, or close enough, would have hit the dome of the Capitol. We had no evacuation plan in Congress, at least 150 members were milling up -- milling in front of the Capitol once it was closed.
By the way, that outraged me because I thought, how can we close the Capitol of the United States when we members take an oath to provide the common defense. But it was close for our safety, and there we were. And there would have been a major continuity of government issue if that plane had hit the Capitol and probably half the House or and Senate would have been eliminated at that point.
HARMAN: And we still don't have adequate measures, we still don't have to make sure -- and we saw this on January 6th, to make sure that we protect our government against catastrophic events like an insurrection.
BLITZER: It's a good point. Anita, go back 20 years, how did the attacks change, then-President George W. Bush?
MCBRIDE: Well, it defined his presidency from that day forward, may every president as we know, takes an oath to preserve the Constitution, protect the security and the people of the United States, you heard, you know, in his words, today, through the shock, and the horror, and the grief, there was the resolve of the nation, to pick ourselves up from this wounded state. And to defend our liberty, to defend our way of life.
I love that he gave, you know, the shout-out to the veterans who joined in voluntary service, you know, to the nation at that time to defend our principles. They were forced for good because the country is a force for good. And that's what the Bush administration and the Bush Doctrine as you know, because you covered it for eight years.
And Jane knows because she was, you know, defender of our liberty, and of our patriotism, and the tools that needed to be put in place to protect the country.
And that's what our eight years were. And I will say in an opportunity to really talk to a lot of my colleagues over a period of a few months, about 50 people from Cabinet officers to interns that were in the White House that day, and then came back the next day.
MCBRIDE: It was just an article for the White House history journal for the White House Historical Association to document what it was like to be there, where they went and coming back, and what the work was like from September 12th forward.
BLITZER: Yes, everybody remembers exactly what was going on.
HARMAN: Wolf --
BLITZER: Very quickly, Jane. Go ahead.
HARMAN: Yes. I just to say, the mantra of the time was America is under attack. We weren't finger-pointing. Anita makes a good point. And at the end of that horrible day, the members of Congress who were there once the Capitol reopened, stood on the steps, held hands, it didn't matter whether we were standing next to someone of the same party or not. And we sang God Bless America.
It was a moment of unity. I think I salute George Bush for hailing that today and Anita McBride played a crucial role too and let's hope we get that feeling of unity back.
BLITZER: Let's certainly hope.
Jane Harman, thank you. Anita McBride, thank -- thanks to you as well. And to our viewers, thanks very much for joining me here at the Pentagon for our special coverage of this very solemn day.
We'll go back to Jake in New York next, and hear from one of the people who wrote Rudy Giuliani's speeches and eulogies during the 9/11 aftermath. This is CNN special live coverage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rhondelle Cherrie Tankard.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael Anthony Tanner.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dennis Girard Taormina Jr.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kenneth Joseph Tarantino.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Allan --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Everyday Americans we think --
Let's listen in to --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike, Mike, you might go, you better go.
TAPPER: That's President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden walking in a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Shanksville, of course, famously, where Flight 93 went down. Passengers and crew members resting control from the terrorists on 9/11, a plane that almost certainly was intended to crash into the U.S. Capitol killing an unknown number of people. Those passengers gave their lives so that others might live.
Jeff Zeleny joins us now from the White House. And Jeff, obviously, President Biden is from Pennsylvania. He's from Scranton. And it was important for him to be in this field today. The citizens of Shanksville and the family members of those lost on Flight 93, sometimes feel as though they are forgotten.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Without a question, Jake, because simply Shanksville is out of the way, it's a rural location. But as you said, so critical to the tragic story of September 11th, which would have been almost certainly far more tragic. That is what the terrorists intended was for that plane to come here to the nation's capital, likely the U.S. Capitol as the 9/11 report said but possibly also here at the White House.
It was unclear what the actual target was. But again, most people think it was the U.S. Capitol where, of course, the death toll would have been much higher. But we've seen President Biden visit Shanksville several times, but the first time now as President. You can see him walking through the field, walking toward the rock there at the Flight 93 Memorial, which is a national park.
So, this is not -- this is familiar ground to him. We're told he is also going to be laying a wreath in memory of one passenger in particular on the flight, who called his wife as the -- they were getting ready to make their attack, the passengers were getting ready to push back against the terrorist. He'll be laying a wreath there. Of course he's walking with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.
And then he also will be coming back to Washington and going to the Pentagon. So visiting all three spots on this day.
And, Jake, we should point out that Joe Biden, of course, was a long- time senator at this point, 20 years ago. He had just become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee earlier that summer. So on that evening, he had a secure military line installed into his Delaware home. That's when he started getting these secure briefings. He spoke with President Bush on that day as well urging him to come back to Washington.
Joe Biden, at the time senator played a key role in the beginning of the war on terrorism. He supported the war, the fight against Afghanistan and Iraq. And, of course, then he became one of the longest and loudest critics.
But Jake, the bookend here is really impossible to script that President Biden would be the commander in chief to end America's longest war in a controversial way. And now, of course, he was there at the beginning. But let's pause on that for a moment and just watch what we are watching there in the field.
As President Biden, as every leader has to do play the role of comforter and chief consoler. That is certainly what he's doing. And it was important for him to go to Shanksville.
And Jake, we saw him talking about unity. The words of unity from former President George W. Bush also echoing loudly there. So the two didn't speak today, as far as we know. But remarkable how similar their messages were.
TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much. We're just taking in some of the sounds and the silence really from Shanksville in that field, where so many dozens of Americans gave their lives to protect other Americans. That plane was intended, it is now believed, for the U.S. Capitol.
And Garrett Graff, you're with me, one of the things about the story of Shanksville is it's not just a story of heroism and it's not just a forgotten part of the story. I mean, the people of Pennsylvania and the families of those survivors, I mean, the families of those who were perished on Flight 93 often feel as though because this took place in a rural area of Pennsylvania and not in the media center of Washington, D.C. or New York City like the Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks (ph). It doesn't get the same attention.
But the story of what happened in Shanksville, it doesn't end on September 11th, 2001. In some ways, it begins.
GRAFF: Yes. And this is where you sort of see disconnect in the way that we even memorialize this crash that we talk of it is Shanksville. Shanksville is not where United Airlines Flight 93 actually crashed. It struck in Stonycreek Township, which is just north of Shanksville. And this is really the story of all of Somerset County, all of the small communities that are called together to respond to that crash out of nowhere.
I mean, remember in New York, the terrorist strike one of the best prepared fire departments in the country. In Arlington, it's one of the best prepared fire departments in the country. In Stonycreek Township, you actually see volunteer EMS, volunteer first responders pulling up one of the first fire trucks that arrived at that field that morning, is actually an uncle and a nephew together, a family responding from their own homes.
And this is a story that we see of this community really wondering why they have been pushed to the fore of this dramatic national story. One of the most amazing interviews I've ever had of someone responding to 9/11 was Sergeant Denise Miller, who is with the Indian Lake Police Department, one of those small communities in Somerset County, ends up there in the first couple of minutes after the crash that morning. And she spends her morning there looking up at the sky, terrified, looking for more planes coming to attack this field in Pennsylvania.
Because all she knows during the 10:00 a.m. hour of Tuesday, September the 11th, is a two plane struck the World Trade Center, a third hit the Pentagon, and a fourth hit this field. And so she assumes that there is some secret government facility under this field that she doesn't know about that this must be one of the most important targets in the entire country. And so she assumes just like the Twin Towers, there are more hijacked planes coming to blow up this field.
And it sounds crazy when I tell it 20 years later. But when we talk about the confusion, the fear, the trauma of that day, it actually makes an incredible amount of sense. Because if you only know what she knows, during the 10:00 a.m. hour, you think that this field, this abandoned coal mine in Somerset County is one of the most important places in the world.
TAPPER: That makes perfect sense actually, it doesn't sound crazy at all, especially if you know so little as so many of us did. We had no idea what was going on, where it was coming from, what was next.
Kaitlan Collins also joins me right now to talk about President Biden's trip to this memorial. And this memorial has been decades in the making, Kaitlan, but I understand going there was very important to President Biden and First Lady Biden. And in fact, it's not the first time they've been there.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, it's not. It's somewhere that we've seen. Actually President Biden speak before commemorating the 9/11 attacks, of course, before he was actually the commander in chief, Jake. And so, when we talk to aides this week at the White House about what exactly his plan was for 9/11, how he was going to mark the 20th anniversary of these attacks, they talked about this desire to go to all three of them.
But I think one thing that's clear is you're not hearing the President deliver a set of remarks today. And the White House said that was because they wanted to let each of these events really speak for themselves. And let the moment and the focus beyond, of course, those lives that we lost and the families of these victims today. And so that's why you're not actually hearing from President Biden himself today.
He did record a video that the White House released last night. And in that video, he tried to take it as a bigger picture of 9/11, Jake, and talk about what he thinks the country is lacking, which is what we heard from one of the brother of one of the victims on Flight 93, talking about the sacrifices that they made and how incredible they were, you know, big sacrifices, small sacrifices and asking, you know, kind of this thought provoking question earlier where he said, you know, are we worth it? Do we deserve that sacrifice that they made? And I think in President Biden speech, he was kind of going back to a bigger point talking about the lack of unity in the country. And of course, that's on display today. And it really makes you remember just what kind of unity you saw on September 11th when these attacks had first happened.
TAPPER: And Kaitlan, we're expecting President Biden to next head to the Pentagon, to the memorial there, walk us through what we're expecting him to do there.
COLLINS: Yes. So they'll finish with this ceremony here in Shanksville and then the President will make his way over to the Pentagon where we just left. They're actually preparing it for his arrival right now. The Vice President will be there as well. And you'll see the President in the First Lady, they'll do a wreath laying ceremony at the Pentagon as well, of course, for the lives that were lost there.
And so you will see the President make this full circle of this side of the attacks and then he'll go back to the White House after that, starting his day in New York and then making his way to Shanksville, of course, where he is now and then going to the Pentagon.
And we were talking about where he was on that day. He was here in Washington as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill trying to go to his Senate office and talking about how he, like so many other people have that experience of what happened that day and what it looked like for him trying to restore normalcy, trying to have a sense of calm and collectiveness, when that was anything but what people were feeling in that moment. As Garrett was just talking about what the woman in Pennsylvania felt, this fear of the unknown, given the unbelievable it just happened.
And so, I think that's really what you've seen in this message from President Biden today and seeing him there earlier in New York, standing alongside several of the former presidents as well as they were marking this moment. Because it is something that, of course, is touched every presidency since George W. Bush, it is something that will touch every other presidency that follows it.
But, of course, President Biden in a significant way, given the way that the troop levels have happened in Afghanistan, his need he felt to pull troops out of there is really something that he wanted to happen by this anniversary. That was his initial deadline that he had set in May for that withdrawal. And I think you really see the symbolism in that as well.
TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.
Coming up next, one of Rudy Giuliani's former speech writers who was there on 9/11 will join us live to discuss. And country star Alan Jackson reflecting on the timeless song he wrote after the attacks that actually mentioned CNN incidentally. Stay with us.
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TAPPER: Twenty years ago today, everyday Americans became heroes never to be forgotten. CNN Senior Political Analyst John Avlon joins us now with more. John?
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: So Jake, 341 New York City firefighters, 23 New York City police officers, 37 Port Authority police officers, three court officers, two EMS workers, numbers alone of course cannot do them justice.
On September 11th 2001, I was 28 years old and serving as Mayor Rudy Giuliani's chief speechwriter. On my desk was a list of every first responder who died in the line of duty that day, their names filled 47 pages. These were the heroes of 9/11, the people who are going up the stairs into the fire as other people were trying to get out.
While city government mobilized fell to four of us in our small office to try to do them justice to say thank you on behalf of the City, as their families tried to assimilate unimaginable loss into their lives. Mayor Giuliani attending up to nine weeks in memorials over the course of his 18-hour days. He was a Republican in a democratic city effective but controversial, cutting crime and welfare in half, earning a job approval rating over 50 percent before the attacks as he prepared to leave office after eight years.
Now, Rudy was spontaneously applauded in the streets transformed into America's mayor. Four days after the attack, the first funeral was held. It was for Father Michael Judge, the beloved Fire Department chaplain who'd been killed by debris as he administered last rites to a fallen firefighter.
We lost so many of New York's bravest that day, including 60 off duty firefighters who rushed to the towers when they heard of the attack. We lost Chief Special Operations Ray Downey, a 40-year veteran who led the recovery mission after the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.
And then famous rescue effort after the terror attack at Oklahoma City two years later. His sons also in the FDNY would spend the better part of the next month digging through Ground Zero, looking for their father.
We lost Captain Terence S. Hatton, the leader of Rescue 1, which lost 10 more men that day. He and the mayor's executive assistant Beth had been married less than four years before to ceremony at Gracie Mansion. Their daughter Terry, was born nine months after her father's death.
Police Officer Moira Smith had been among the first to report that a plane had smashed into the towers. And hours later, this mother of a two-year-old and wife of a police officer became the first female NYPD officer killed in the line of duty.
Firefighter John Chipura had survived the 1983 terror attacks on the Marine barracks in Beirut, then serve 12 years with the NYPD before joining the fire department. And then there was 71-year-old first Deputy Fire Commissioner Bill Feehan, who became the oldest New York City firefighter in history to die in the line of duty.
These were just a handful of the heroes we lost on 9/11. And their services were held in chapels and synagogues, fire houses and cathedrals like St. Patrick's in ceremonies that symbolize the city and a nation united in grief and resolve. Thousands of firefighters and their dress blue uniforms lined the street. Everyone fell silent as the black limousines carrying the family arrived.
Then the faint sound of bagpipes and drum rolls grew louder as the Emerald society pipe band marched closer, announcing the approach of an engine truck, rolling mournfully slow with a flag covered coffin. Inside the service prayers were read, families and friend offers eulogies followed by remarks by the mayor or surrogates like Fire Commissioner Tommy Von Essen, offering the assurance that the example of their courage would live on to inspire others, consistent with the biblical verse John 15:13, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends".
After the final blessing, the coffin was carried out and lifted onto the waiting firetruck as a thousand firefighters simultaneously snapped into salute. The Emerald society band then began marching down Fifth Avenue, playing "Amazing Grace", "America the Beautiful" and "Going Home", as the fire truck followed, disappearing into the distance with a sign on its back that read, "We Will Never Forget".
TAPPER: John, it's such a potent, beautiful memory and memorializing that you just shared. It's tough to explain to people who don't remember 9/11 just how effective Rudy Giuliani was that day, as somebody --
TAPPER: -- who tried to reassure the country, served as a leader, especially at a time when President Bush was in the air and out of communique for much of that day.
TAPPER: Is that legacy do you think for Rudy Giuliani gone given his political behavior in the last five years?
AVLON: I don't think it's gone. I think that people should be defined by the totality of their career. And his leadership on that day, as well as his leadership of mayor over the previous years, I think should be put in context. This last chapter has been a disgrace. He has squandered much of his legacy and the goodwill and the leadership that he had earned across partisan lines.
But at the end of the day, I don't think he should be defined entirely by this most recent chapter. And I think history will primarily remember his leadership on the greatest terror attack in our nation's history, and his leadership in the days and weeks and months after the fact. I do believe that.
TAPPER: John Avlon, thank you so much.
The song, "Where Were You", written by country music star Alan Jackson and his performance at the Country Music Awards became a unifying moment in the days after 9/11, when so much of the country was looking for unifying moments, looking for reassurance. He spoke about his reflections from them and them (ph).
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN JACKSON, COUNTRY MUSIC SINGER: I mean, it makes me feel really warmed inside and to know that that song, and at the same time, I feel a little bit surprised that it has lasted all these years. I mean, you know, when I first wrote it out, I didn't think of recording and then we didn't think it would ever -- we'd want to release it.
First, I didn't think I'd ever write a song about the vamp because I just didn't feel right about it. And then this came out of nowhere. And then it went on to be such anthem for years and and now it's kind of grown into just its own song outside of 9/11 where it's just song about faith and hope and love. And I see that in the crowds now.
And, you know, a lot of my fans, younger fans were hardly even around when I live and happen, but they have connected with that song. And it's one of the highlights of the show now. And it's just amazing that it has outlived where it really began, you know, when -- so it can -- it will make me feel very proud that it's something like that, is help people through that hard time beginning and it still has lasting effect outside of --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: On 9/11, the former President George W. Bush was at that moment of the attacks in a Florida classroom, he was reading to schoolchildren. Now 20 years later, CNN has caught up with those children.
In a new special report, CNN's Victor Blackwell spoke to some of the kids and adults about their memories.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: This is the perspective you'd likely have not heard over the last 20 years since the attacks of 9/11. These are the students who were with President Bush in Sarasota, when Andy Card walked up and whispered in his ear that America was under attack. Those students are now 27 years old.
And there are a lot of surprises in this special, they express some guilt that they felt but also some gratitude for the second grade teacher who has held them together over these last two decades. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DINASTY BROWN, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEM. SCHOOL: A lot of people say, you know, you guys look so good and so well manner but that was everyday like Mrs. Daniels (ph) drove a tight ship. It wasn't for the President, that's -- that was every day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was behind the word said?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Comma.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what does that comma means?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And let's read that sentence again.
BROWN: We were good at it, so it wasn't nothing to be nervous about.
BLACKWELL: That was not a performance.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh no. They did the work. And they were in front of the President and they were holding their own. It was authentic. And what you saw were my babies doing what we did every single day. And I felt like a proud mama.
BLACKWELL: What was your impression of Mrs. Daniels class?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were loving the talk by the President. If you're around him enough, you would know by the way he smiled how much fun he was having with the kids and reading to them. So it was going really well until it wasn't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: CNN Special Report "Front Row to History: The 9/11 Classroom" airs tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN. And right after that, join us for a special tribute to the families of September 11th. "Shine A Light" begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
Thank you so much for joining us on this somber day of reflection honoring the lives lost, the heroes born, the families forever changed by the events of those -- that horrible day 20 years ago, September 11th 2001.
I'm Jake Tapper live in New York. Our special coverage continues next. I'll see you tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Today, marking 20 years since 9/11. Date unlike any other in American history. 2,977 lives lost in the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history. The name of every victim read this morning across the three attack locations.
In New York, hundreds gathered to mark this solemn day. Children placing flowers for loved ones.