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Today: Nation Observes 22nd Anniversary Of 9/11 Attacks; 22 Years Later: U.S. Pauses To Reflects & Honor Lives Lost; 2024 GOP Candidates Commemorate 9/11 Attacks; Trump Pays Tribute To "Precious Souls" Killed On 9/11; Biden Flies Home To Questions About His Message & His Age; Biden: China's Economic Plan "Isn't Working At All"; Haley: Biden Needs To "Start Getting Serious With China"; Aides Point To Busy Foreign Trip As Evidence Of Biden's Stamina. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 11, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, the nation pauses to remember a permanent scar on America's soul. And to honor the nearly 3000 who paid the ultimate price on that September Sunday morning.

Plus, bullied by the pulpit. The president returns home from a dual purpose, big foreign trip to advance his policies on the world stage and try to quiet voters' skepticism of his approach and his ability to serve. And Kevin McCarthy runs the congressional hamster wheel. The House speaker is battling the same problems caused by the same set of conservative hardliners, and this time a new version of the same question. Can he escape with his job?

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

Up first, America is replaying and reliving one of its darkest days. By this time, 12:01 pm Eastern, 22 years ago, both World Trade Towers had collapsed. Lower Manhattan was in the middle of an evacuation, its streets its firefighters, its police, its people are caked in concrete dust and ash.

This morning, the tolling of the bells followed by moments of silence. And then reading of the names, all remind us of that nearly 3000 men and women whose lives were stolen on September 11, in the terror attacks that forever altered America and the world.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is live from the 9/11 Memorial Plaza in New York City. Brynn?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana. As you just mentioned, we're at the point now, where there are no more moments of silence, but we're continuing to hear the names of those lives lost 22 years ago today. And I have to tell you being here at Ground Zero, when we heard those bells toll six different times throughout the morning, everyone here just stopped and stood in silence. And it was just such a moment of just the gravity of what happened here really settled in. And I want to get out of the way because we're very close to the southern reflection pools. And you can see all the flowers and the flags that people have placed next to the names of their loved ones. And I've had a chance to actually get to talk to some of these people. I talked to one woman who was putting a flower next to her name.

And I asked her, who did she lose? She lost her husband. And I asked did she come back every year? And she said, no, she doesn't. She came back this year, though, because her son, now 22 years old was reading some of the names of those people lost. He was 10 months old when his dad died.

And another little boy, maybe six or seven years old. He was also reading names. And he said that he was named after his uncle who passed away here. And he says he never got to know him, of course, but he feels like he knows him just from the stories that he's been told.

And that has been so important, as I talked to the organizers of this event every year to make sure the kids were part of this, Dana, because it's the generations coming forward who don't know necessarily what 9/11 was, they get a talk through all of us who lived it. And it is important to them that of course, this story continues to move forward and that we never, never forget. And you really, really felt that sense here today 22 years after those devastating terrorist attacks. Dana?

BASH: Sure do. Thank you for bringing us the feeling what it was like there at the site of the attack. And of course, now a memorial. Thanks Brynn. And a solemn day doubles as a chance to look the part for people who want to be commander in chief. In Iowa, Mike Pence paid tribute to the fallen. In New York Ron DeSantis, got an audience with families' of 9/11 victims. And tonight, Vivek Ramaswamy will stand side by side with firefighters.

Here to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Eva McKend, Leigh Ann Caldwell of The Washington Post, and Frank Foer of the Atlantic. He's also the author of the new book, "The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden's White House and the Struggle for America's Future."

I want to talk about how this is playing on the campaign trail. We are inside politics. But first take a moment. You know, Brynn was talking about the fact that young people don't know, they are reading from the history books, and we lived it. I was on Capitol Hill. You were on Capitol Hill. And just listening to the description of it.

It takes you back to the terror of knowing what happened as it was happening real time in New York, but being here in Washington at the Capitol, literally not knowing if that plane which ended up in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Flight 93 because of the heroism of those on board, we thought it was heading toward the Capitol turns out the 9/11 commission said it actually was and they saved, not only the edifice, but a lot of people's lives.


LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. My mom says that she prays and is thankful every single day for those brave people in Pennsylvania, because I was in the Capitol, and it's -- and a moment where every single person who was alive and at the time remembers where they were. And ever since the -- everything at the Capitol completely changed. You know, Dana, full well, those now barriers, so much more security at the Capitol.

But on that day, we were living in a world where security they didn't -- they weren't expecting anything like this. There wasn't -- it was just such a different time where no one knew where to run for safety, no one knew where to go. And so, it did change so much, not only in our geopolitical world, but in our worlds as well.

BASH: Yes. I mean, I was a producer at the time covering Congress, and I was able to drive right up to basically to the Capitol, which you can't do anymore for obvious reasons. So, we talked about what's going on right now to commemorate. And of course, what is going on the campaign trail is a lot of Republicans are running to be the nominee in order to get the chance to be commander in chief.

Just one our team went through the sort of list of Republican candidates to show where they were and what they were doing on 9/11 2001. Donald Trump was a real estate mogul. Ron DeSantis was a high school teacher. Vivek Ramaswamy was a high school student. Mike Pence was in Congress. Nikki Haley worked at her family business. Senator Tim Scott was in the Charleston city council. He was a councilman. Chris Christie was a private attorney. Asa Hutchinson was the DEA administrator. And Doug Burgum was executive at Microsoft.

And it was a long time ago when they had such different, different lives, but they're all, you know, commemorating it in a way for the most part that feels appropriate.

FRANKLIN FOER, AUTHOR, "THE LAST POLITICIAN": Right. Well, 9/11 wasn't just a day, it was an era. I remember that day. My wife was stranded in Japan on a business school trip. And just she ended up flying back into Newark Airport. And I remember her flying over the city with, you know, you were able to see the smoldering halls. And I remember driving up 95, which was empty, listening to the radio, and it was just this incredible feeling.

I mean, think of helplessness that everybody felt but not knowing what was going to come next. But the sense that there probably was something to come next. And so, for, I think everybody who lived through the next couple of decades, it changed our foreign policy, obviously, we're preventing the next 9/11 became our abiding concern. But it also changed our politics.

I think a lot of what we're living with now, you could probably chip trace back to that day, just the fear and the anxiety that was opened up, was something that was also exploited by politicians over time. And it's interesting to see all of these politicians continuing to interact with this seminal date on the calendar and finding their way to navigate through it.

BASH: Well, and Donald Trump, his campaign released among the most normal messages that we hear from him, and it's because he wasn't on the campaign trail, it was his campaign. Just watch this video. It sounds like he could be kind of any politician.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: No one who lived through the horror of the September 11 terrorist attacks, can ever forget the agony and the anguish of that terrible day, it was a terrible day. Today on the solemn anniversary of those monstrous attacks, we remember the 2977 precious souls who were savagely taken from us on that morning. 22 years ago, leaving a void that can never be filled.


BASH: And Eva, you have that. And then you have Nikki Haley, who was talking about the fact that her husband enlisted because of 9/11. "In spite of the horrors of 9/11, what followed was the best of the American spirit. Americans rallied and united. Men and women, including my husband Michael, enlisted to defend our freedom and defeat evil."

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The statements about 9/11 should not be the vehicle to take a political shot at one of your opponents. I think it just won't come off well, and that's why we are not seeing that for the most part. What strikes me though, is that many of these candidates are still really saying things that are close to their larger arguments for election.

So, for instance, Congressman Hurd in his statement says, like this is why we have to continue to prioritize our national security. That's his whole -- one of his whole reasons for running. And more of what Ambassador Haley said, she said that we are not immune from countries that want to destroy us, set aligns with sort of the hawkish position that he -- she has taken this entire campaign.


BASH: Yes. And it is true that that there is a divide. And this is an illustration of it within the Republican Party, those who are running. Just on how forward leaning the United States should be in helping other countries.

I remember covering the George -- then Governor George W. Bush campaign, and he was all about not wanting to nation build. And then he was president on 9/11. And that totally changed and started the longest war in Afghanistan, nation building, nevermind Iraq, which is a different question.

CALDWELL: And now you're seeing that divide actually come back in the Republican Party on what is the role of the United States overseas. Is it an America first type of agenda that Donald Trump has championed? Or is it more than Nikki Haley stature.

What's interesting is Ron DeSantis gave an interview to the Washington examiner talking about 9/11. And he focused all of this not on national, not on a foreign policy, but on border security and the southern border, and that that's a reason to keep our borders and our country strong, kind of avoiding the divisive issue within the Republican Party of what the United States's role is around the world.

BASH: It's interesting, considering the fact that he now along with his campaign, the Super PAC are playing up the fact that he did serve post 9/11, as many, many people did, including Nikki Haley's husband.

FOER: Right. Well, it also invokes kind of the worst part of the legacy of 9/11, which is the suspiciousness of foreigners, the sense of the nation being invaded. And it's interesting to see the ways in which it's being explicitly connected to the migration issue into the southern border. I mean, in a way that I think to me goes too far in drawing that sort of comparison, way too far.

BASH: Yes. Really interesting. Thank you all. Appreciate it. Coming up. President Biden is heading home after a whirlwind trip to India and Vietnam. What did he accomplish both on policy and on politics? That's next.




BASH: Right now, President Biden is on his way home from a foreign trip with a big international agenda for the United States but also for his reelection here at home. CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House. Arlette, how President Biden handles really everything at this point is seen through a 2024 lens, isn't it?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana. That's right. Both here at home and on the world stage. And President Biden is currently on an 11-hour flight from Vietnam to Alaska, where he will meet with service members to mark the 22nd anniversary of the September 11 attacks. But the president is returning back to the U.S. after making some significant headway.

When it comes to trying to position the U.S. as a counterbalance to China, the president spent some time at the G20 Summit in India, which produced an agreement to establish a shipping corridor, opening up India to the Middle East, and to Europe, that could serve as a challenge to China's own infrastructure initiatives around the globe.

In Vietnam, the president elevated the United States diplomatic relationship with the country a neighbor to China as they are trying to assert more influence in the region. But this trip while it had those foreign policy objectives, it also has a second purpose.

Aides here at the White House in the campaign often point to these trips, as an example of not just the president's ability to foster and build relationships and his decades of foreign policy experience, but also a chance for the president to show that the -- that he as 80 years old, is up to the grueling task that these trips require, especially at a time when there is significant concern and polls from Americans about the president's age.

Now, these trips are whirlwind trips. He has been traveling over the course of five days, meeting with world leaders. There are times where you do see some verbal missteps. But ultimately, what advisors here at the White House have been trying to lean into as the president is up to doing the job.

You'll remember just last week, his campaign rolled out a new ad, highlighting that secret trip that he took into Ukraine. Ultimately, this will all be up to voters to decide whether they believe the president is up for a second term.

BASH: Sure. Well, Arlette, thank you so much for that report. And our reporters here at the table are still with us. I want to put to the side for one second where Arlette ended her report, talking about the perception of Biden. And let's talk for a minute about the policy of what he discussed in Asia, leaning into China, and the questions around China, the very, very sticky questions.

Let's listen to what he said in a press conference yesterday.


JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't think it's going to cause China to invade Taiwan. And matter of fact, the opposite probably doesn't have the same capacity that it had before. This is not a criticism. It's an observation. He has his hands full right now. He has overwhelming unemployment with his youth. One of the major economic tenants of his plan isn't working at all right now. I'm not happy for him that, but it's not working.


BASH: He of course talking about the Chinese leader Xi. You -- we're going to talk about your book in a second later in the show. But one of the things that you talk about in here is how much he had to deal with Afghanistan. Again, we're going to talk about that later. But what he ran on was very much wanting to turn his attention to what you just heard to China, and to make America more competitive with China.

FOER: So, it's so fitting on 9/11, that he actually is dealing with the China issue, because by ending the Afghanistan war, he was hoping to end that era foreign policy and redirect the nation's gaze to the problem of China. And when you -- I've had -- I've been able to listen to him in a small setting, explain his China's strategy.


And when you look at all the different component parts of it, it adds up to something significant. You have new relationship with Australia militarily. He's tried to flip Modi in India. He's trying to turn these countries that ring around China to become at least neutral in the alliance.

And in fact, what he was describing just there is that China, who everybody kind of seemed as this implacable nation rising is now starting to stumble economically. A lot of it because of the force of, its COVID policies and misguided things that Xi has done. But even if he doesn't call it a containment strategy, it's actually succeeding in containing China.

BASH: And then you have on the other side of the aisle that Republicans running to be his competitor for the White House. Nikki Haley, in particular was with Jake yesterday, and she was really going after the president and his administration for engaging too much with China.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, how much more has to happen, for Biden to realize you don't send cabinet members over to China to appease them. You start getting serious with China and say, we're not going to put up with it. They keep sending different cabinet officials over Jake, and it's embarrassing.


CALDWELL: Yes. So, this is a new attempt by the administration to actually try to have some sort of diplomatic channel with China. Secretary Raimondo was there last month, before that Tony Blinken was there, you had John Kerry, the climate envoy there, earlier this summer as well. And it is an attempt by the Biden administration.

But I think that the Biden ministration is also under no, you know, shade that thinking that this is the only path that they are going to improve relations with China. But China is also something that is very hotly contested right now. There's a lot of divisions, not only among Republicans, but among Democrats too, on how to address China. How aggressive to be, not only on the military front, but on the economic front as well. And there's just no consensus just yet.

MCKEND: Yes. The base of the party just doesn't mirror her rhetoric. So, if you talk to Republican voters, yes, you know, they want us to be strong on foreign policy, but her sort of dabbling in this, you know, very hawkish position, a lot of bass Republican voters.

You know, I remember a Haitian woman from Florida, Haitian American woman from Florida I met. And she said the reason that she loved Trump so much was that he was anti-war. And that's why she was going to vote for him again. And so, this really aggressive position, hawkish position, it's not what I'm hearing on the ground.

BASH: I want to turn to the other important goal of Joe Biden's trip, which was to show Americans how he can go on an 11-hour journey, be there for a couple of days, come back and be a robust leader. I want to read some of Kevin Liptak, my colleagues reporting on

He said, the president's advisers see lengthy days in far-flung time zones, a canny ability to convene fellow heads of state and an understanding of global politics honed over a half-century career. Most voters in the U.S. see something else. You have spent a lot of time with this notion of Joe Biden the experience, Joe Biden the reality of his age. What do you make of it?

FOER: Yes. Well, I mean, both things are true. He is old. And then you see moments like this, where his, I think his experiences, especially on display, just given that the China problem is a very hard one.

BASH: The voters seeing that?

FOER: No, they're not. I mean, you can see in the polls. And I'm not sure to what extent any evidence will actually change their opinions about this. But you know, he's navigating this incredibly complicated issue where he's got to push China without it falling or going beyond the guardrails because we don't want to get engaged in a major military confrontation with the Chinese.

MCKEND: But sometimes the right beats up on him so badly on this competency question and sort of characterizing him as feeble that they almost lower expectations. So, he comes out there and he does this news conference. And you're like, oh, that wasn't that bad. There was a John Wade weird moment, but he could have been done that 30 years ago. And Joe Biden has routinely -- -

BASH: The 30 years ago, John Wade was more culturally.


CALDWELL: Exactly not, I mean, these young voters know exactly who he's talking about right now. But the challenge of Joe Biden is the fact that you can, you know, edit videos to show all of Joe Biden's weaknesses and that is what the Republican Party is continuing to do and push those out there. And despite the fact because they also see the polling and show that that is Joe Biden's biggest weakness is his age.


BASH: Before President Biden left Hanoi, he paid his respects to the late Senator John McCain. He visited the memorial near the site where McCain's navy aircraft was shot down during the Vietnam war in 1967. McCain was captured and held as a prisoner of war for five and a half years. President Biden left one of his challenge coins at the site. And he said, "I miss him. He was a good friend."