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CNN Live Event/Special

VP Kamala Harris Marks 20th Anniversary Of 9/11 In Shanksville, PA; Interview With U.S. Secretary Of Defense Gen. Lloyd Austin; Interview With Robert De Niro; Soon: POTUS And First Lady To Pay Tribute To Flight 93. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired September 11, 2021 - 11:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Talking about the fact that right now, every disagreement is a naked appeal to anger and resentment. And going on and on about what -- specifically he is standing in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where Flight 93 went down -- the fact this group of Americans could have been -- it was a random group, but it was an exceptional group of people and it could have been any American.

Remember, I was just looking up the date, it was six days after 9/11. Then-President Bush went to a mosque, intentionally so, in order to make the point in his words and his actions that what happened and the people who perpetrated those attacks might have been Muslim, but they were using Islam in vain and that wasn't what the Muslim faith is all about.

And we kind of all took for granted that that's what a president should do. And we no longer do that. Because of what we have seen over the past five years and frankly even more recently with people in both parties, but specifically some people in his own party refusing to stand up and do what is right when it comes to the basic facts and truth of things that happened in this country.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: I remember well covering the White House in those days and even most Democrats would tell you, in the immediate days after 9/11, the president of the United States who happened to be a Republican, he was the president of the United States, was pitch perfect.

Now, 20 years later, many Democrats won't listen to George W. Bush because of the Iraq war and the political polarization of that. Trump Republicans won't listen to George W. Bush because Donald Trump spent so much time essentially trying to wipe out and criticize and undermine the Bush establishment of the Republican Party.

I hope all Americans -- in some ways, this is not a day for politics; in other ways, you just had a former president deliver that speech, so there is it is before you.

I come here without explanation or solutions. Not trying to lecture but talking about those days. Americans, we didn't care after 9/11. Nobody cared if you were a Democrat or Republican. Americans did hold hands.

The people in that community, I've been there many times. Shanksville is such a special place. I don't know if they're Democrats or Republicans. I know what they did and the comfort they gave to the families whose family members were vaporized on the hillside and didn't have a place to stay and didn't have a place to eat.

That was a -- that was a horrific time in America but the former president is right, it was also a really special time in America. It is naive to think that any president can give a speech, or any of us can analyze that speech and bam, we're going to get back to it.

But this is the reason you do celebrate, mark, commemorate big anniversaries, so that everybody stops and thinks. And so maybe everybody could stop and think.

The president says this is not mere nostalgia. He's right. He's right. On big issues, on big questions, we have a pandemic now in front of us. On big issues and questions, Americans should be able to say, I'm putting that in the drawer. Let's have a conversation as friends and neighbors.

Again, it's naive to think that that's going to wipe away, but I hope -- I hope everybody, regardless of your party just listens to that. And remember, for those old enough, remember those days.

But he was -- again, the Iraq war damaged it -- but he was pitch perfect immediately after, talking about how America is remarkable because, as Dana noted, those the random people who did such an exceptional, heroic thing.

I also think when you look back at 9/11 and you're thinking of what it was like that day, the threat, and now you look at what the threat is now.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is what so many people think about. That's what the DHS secretary was talking about when he was being interviewed on CNN earlier. And what President Bush was saying there about domestic terrorism which, of course, we know seen so many warnings about that.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hold on for a moment. The vice president of the United States is speaking.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Bush, it is my honor to be on the stage with you and Mrs. Laura Bush. And thank you, President Bush, for your words. They're as resonant today as the words you spoke 20 years ago.

Governor Tom Wolf, Superintendent Steven Clark, madame secretary, and the president of the Families of Flight 93 Gordon Felt. It is truly an honor to be with all of you at this field of honor. We are adjoined today, of course, by the family and friends of the 40 passengers and crew members of Flight 93. And we stand today with all those who lost someone on September 11th, 2001 and in the aftermath of the attacks.

[1104 So many in our nation -- too many in our nation have deeply felt the passage of time these last 20 years. Every birthday your loved one missed, every holiday, every time her favorite team won or his favorite song came on the radio. Every time you've tucked in your children or dropped them off at college, you have felt every day, every week, and every year that has passed these 20 years.

So please know your nation sees you and we stand with you. And we support you.


HARRIS: We are gathered today on hallowed ground at this place that has been sanctified by sacrifice, to honor the heroism that the 40 passengers and crew members showed in the face of grave terrorism.

I remember when I first learned about what happened on that fateful flight. What happened on Flight 93 told us then and it still tells us so much about the courage of those on board who gave everything they possibly could. About the resolve of the first responders who risked everything. And about the resilience of the American people.

On this 20th anniversary, on this solemn day of remembrance, we must challenge ourselves, yes, to look back, to remember, for the sake of our children, for the sake of their children, and for that reason we must also look forward.

We must also look toward the future because in the end, I do believe that is what the 40 were fighting for. Their future and ours.

On the days that followed September 11th, 2001 we were all reminded that unity is possible in America. We were reminded also that unity is imperative in America. It is essential to our shared prosperity, to our national security, and to our standing in the world.

And by unity, I don't mean uniformity. We had differences of opinion in 2001 as we do in 2021. And I believe that in America, our diversity is our strength.

At the same time, we saw after 9/11 how fear can be used to sow division in our nation. As Sikh and Muslim Americans were targeted because of how they looked or how they worshipped.

But we also saw what happens when so many Americans in the spirit of our nation stand in solidarity with all people and their fellow American, with those who experience violence and discrimination, when we stand together.

And looking back, we remember. The vast majority of Americans were unified in purpose. To help families heal. To help communities recover. To defend our nation and to keep us safe. In a time of outright terror, we turned toward each other. In the face of a stranger, we saw a neighbor and a friend.

That time reminded us the significance and the strength of our unity as Americans and that it is possible in America.

So moments from now we will leave this hallowed place, still carrying with us the pain of this loss, this tremendous loss, and still the future will continue to unfold. We will face new challenges, challenges that we could not have seen 20 years ago. We will seize opportunities that were, at one time, unimaginable.

And we know that what lies ahead is not certain. It is never certain. It has never been.

But I know this. If we do the hard work of working together as Americans, if we remain united in purpose, we will be prepared for whatever comes next.


HARRIS: The 40 passengers and crew members of Flight 93, as we all know, they didn't know each other. Most of them didn't know each other. They were different people from different places. They were on that particular flight for different reasons.

But they did not focus on what may separate us. No. They focused on what we all share. On the humanity we all share.

In a matter of minutes, in the most dire of circumstances, the 40 responded as one. They fought for their own lives and to save the lives of countless others at our nation's capital.

After today, it is my hope and prayer that we continue to honor their courage, their conviction, with our own, that we honor their unity by strengthening our common bonds. By strengthening our global partnerships. And by always living out our highest ideals.

This work will not be easy. It never has been. And it will take all of us believing in who we are as a nation. And it will take all of us going forth to work together.

Thank you all. May God bless you and may God bless America. Thank you.


BERMAN: The Vice President Kamala Harris also delivering a very powerful, moving, once again very timely address.

Let's discuss this important day with the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us.

I know this is a very moving, emotional day for you, as it is for all the men and women of the U.S. military. You're a retired four-star general. What's it like going through this day today?

GEN. LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well Wolf, today is about remembering. It's about reminding the survivors, family members, that they will always be a part of our team, always be a part of our family. And that we won't forget the service and the sacrifices of their loved ones. You know, I think about the fact that the events that happened on that day put us on a path to war, and a war that I fought in at one tour in Afghanistan, three tours in Iraq -- three long tours. And so I know firsthand the sacrifices that families make on a routine basis.

So it's about, you know, reuniting with those who lost loved ones. It's about reminding them of the fact that we care, that they will be a part of our family forever. And I think that's really, really important, Wolf.

BLITZER: 20 years ago today, I believe you were a one-star general.

AUSTIN: I was.

BLITZER: Tell us what you remember about that day. Where you were and how you felt when you got the news.

AUSTIN: So I was sitting in my office at the headquarters at Third Infantry Division where I was a deputy commander for maneuver.

BLITZER: That's at Fort Stewart, Georgia?

AUSTIN: Fort Stewart, Georgia --


AUSTIN: -- yes. You know I was -- I had the news on and so I was watching -- conducting an interview with someone. But he news was kind of playing in the background and I was watching this airplane as it crashed into one of the towers there, the second airplane.

And then things began to change. You know, we suddenly realized that this was -- we were under attack. So there were a number of things that happened subsequently.

You'll recall back in those days, we had open bases and installations and we -- you know, our footprint, our security status changed almost immediately.

And overnight, we were facing different world. And it changed not only the United States but it changed the entire world, Wolf.

BLITZER: What is your message to the loved ones who lost family members on this day 20 years ago?

AUSTIN: We're with you. We will be there for you. You are a part of our family. We mourn your loss along with you. And again, we'll always be here for you.


BLITZER: You know, we saw so much courage on that day -- in New York, Shanksville, here at the Pentagon on that day. And it inspired so many Americans to go out and commit themselves to the military, to public service, to do good deeds as a result of what they saw. You saw that, as well. AUSTIN: We did. We did. It's fascinating to me that if you look across

all our services, we've always had ups and downs in terms of numbers of enlistments. It's been fairly steady that people -- young people have continued to sign up to support their country and to defend their country.

BLITZER: What's sad to me and I'm sure it is to you as well, 20 years ago today the Taliban was in control of Afghanistan. We went to war, spent 20 years there, lost thousands, spent trillions. 20 years later, the Taliban is still once again in control of Afghanistan. When you think about that, what goes through your mind?

AUSTIN: Well, I think there's some things to remember -- important things to remember, Wolf. First of all, we went out there -- we went there to go after the people who attacked America and to hold them accountable.

We held bin Laden accountable. We significantly degraded the al Qaeda network. And I would point to you the fact that no one has attacked the United States, and especially from that region, in 20 years.

That's not an accident. That's the work of great professionals that are working together to make sure that they're tracking threat streams and sharing information with each other. And that's a significant accomplishment.

And my goal, Wolf, is to make sure that it doesn't happen in the future. That we stay focused on threats. Keep a laser focus on the threats and make sure that we maintain the capability to address those threats when and where required.

BLITZER: But you said it becomes more difficult now that the U.S. no longer has a ground presence in Afghanistan.

AUSTIN: Difficult but not impossible, Wolf. And as you know, because you track these things around the world, we maintain the ability to reach out and touch any place on the planet that we want to. We do that on a routine basis. You've seen us conduct strikes in a number of places without having people on the ground.

BLITZER: So you're talking about over-the-horizon activity.

AUSTIN: Exactly.

BLITZER: And so we're going to see more of that, do you think?

AUSTIN: Well, I mean we'll maintain -- we have robust capability in the region, and if required, we'll employ that capability. We'll continue to ensure that we build upon the capability that we already have but yes, if required, yes.

BLITZER: As you know, the men and women who have served in the military over these past 20 years, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, they're going through some difficult emotions right now. Some of them are pretty confused, wondering, did we do the right thing? Should we have done what we did? What's your message to them? AUSTIN: My message is that we know that some will have a tough time

working their way through this, but each person has to work their way through this on an individual basis. And I think we have to give them space, the space to do that.

And I think we should also remind our troops and our civilians that if they need help, don't be afraid to reach out and get that help. And so it's going to take a little time to work through this, but you know, it's to be expected, that you'll hear opinions from all sides of the conversation. And that -- that's ok. That's who we are. That's America.

BLITZER: How did 9/11 change U.S. alliances with NATO and other partners?

AUSTIN: Well, we saw NATO, you know, come in to Afghanistan in a major way as one of our allies because we were part of the alliance. And that alliance, I think, has remained strong throughout. And our goal is to continue to strengthen it.

BLITZER: Because as you know, some of those NATO allies were deeply disappointed, not that the war is over, everybody wanted the war to be over, everybody wanted to get out of Afghanistan, but the way it ended.

Yes, 120,000 -- 125,000 people got out, but there's still thousands left who would like to come here.

AUSTIN: And what we've told our allies and what we tell our own people is that we'll continue to work together to get as many people out that desire to come out going forward. This is not over. Our efforts to help the people who have helped us are not over.

BLITZER: There's still Americans left in Afghanistan, too. And what you were saying is you're going to try to get them all out?

AUSTIN: You've seen most recently here, Wolf, a couple plane loads of American citizens that left Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Are we going to see more of that?

AUSTIN: I hope. And we're working hard to make sure -- the State Department is working hard to make sure that that happens.


BLITZER: Because you were just there in Doha, Qatar working on this issue. Tell us what you found out.

AUSTIN: Well, you know, the Qataris have been enormously helpful in our efforts here to evacuate 124,000 people, which is historic. And in my mind, the youngsters who were a part of this did heroic work.

My goal was to -- and what I accomplished was to thank the Qataris for the tremendous help, the partnership that they continue to provide us. It's really, really strong -- so. BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people don't know that the U.S. has a very

significant military presence at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar at Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar. It's a major U.S. military facility.

AUSTIN: Yes. You've been there, Wolf.

BLITZER: I've been there, yes. I spent some quality time there.

AUSTIN: Yes. And you know that that's where we use our capabilities there to support a range of activities throughout the region.

BLITZER: Bottom line -- because I know you have to run -- is the United States safer today than it was 20 years ago?

AUSTIN: Wolf, I think if you look at the fact that our capabilities are greatly increased from what we had 20 years ago, if you look at the fact that the way that we operate in the inner agency is far beyond what we would have ever imagined 20 years ago, I think we are safer all together. Yes.

BLITZER: But your biggest fear is what?

AUSTIN: Well, my biggest concern is that, you know, someone will try to export terror to the United States again. But my goal, my job, Wolf, as you well know, is to defend this country. And I take that very, very seriously.

And we're going to stay focused on that. Whether it's a threat from a transnational terrorist, whether it's a threat from, you know, somewhere else, a near-peer competitor, our job is to make sure that we keep the homeland safe and we protect our interests around the globe.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, good luck. Thanks so much, especially on this really important day, for joining us.

AUSTIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

Jake, the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. Thank you so much, Wolf.

One of the many first responders who was killed trying to save lives on that horrible day 20 years ago was Fire Department of New York FDNY Lieutenant Joseph Gerard Leavey. Joe Leavey was just 45 years old. He was last heard on a radio transmission from the 78th floor in the South Tower.

His daughter, Cait Leavey, was only 10 years old at the time. She is with us now.

And Cait, thanks so much for joining us. It is good to see you again.


TAPPER: Let's show that photo of you and your dad again. So this is from when you were in kindergarten. What was he like as a dad?

LEAVEY: My dad was the embodiment of bringing light into the darkness. He was the Mr. Mom. He was a kid at heart. And always brought so much joy to us. I mean my favorite memory of him was going to the supermarket. And it'd be an hour and a half trip because he'd be talking to everyone and asking how everyone was doing.

And he just -- he loved his family, he loved the firehouse. He would call the firehouse his second home. And as a family, we'd come down to Battery Park and rollerblade, and then go visit the firehouse and say hello to everyone.

And so yes, he was -- he just brought so much joy.

TAPPER: Sounds like a wonderful guy.


TAPPER: And you came here, you were just at the Engine 4 Ladder 15 firehouse at South Street, seaport right off the FDR where your dad worked. What was that like, going there?

LEAVEY: Yes. The firehouse is a special place for me. It's just like how he talked about the firehouse as --

TAPPER: Did you go there a lot when you were a kid or --

LEAVE: I did. We used to go there a lot. I mean he called New York City his playground and would love taking us by the firehouse. Loved introducing us to everyone, showing us everything that he would do as a fireman.

And you know, to this day, I'm very close to the firehouse. And I visit them, also I'll bring them cookies. I'll go around and say hello. And so going there on the anniversary every year, it just feels like home for me. It is very comforting.

And having my family with me, as well, is such -- it's a beautiful way for us to honor our dad.


TAPPER: Going through that at age 10, I can't even imagine the pain. Now you're 20 years older, and you have a better understanding of the incredible courage and selflessness that it must have taken your father and all the other first responders that day.

Does that help, knowing that?

LEAVEY: Yes. I mean, I -- when I listen to my dad's voice on the tapes, there was just so much calm and collectiveness. And it just reminded me of the leader and of the person that he was and the bravery and the courage and knowing that he was running into those buildings to save others and bringing all those men and women home to their families.

Just knowing how much of a family man he was and what that meant to him. And running into the tower when everyone was running out just, that was the guy that my dad was.

TAPPER: And without question, he saved countless lives that day. Have you had an opportunity to -- have any of the people who got out of the building safely, have you met any of them, anybody who might remember your dad?

LEAVEY: Yes. So I volunteer with the 9/11 Memorial Museum. And we started the Visionary Network, which is a way for us to educate the next generation.

And at one of their benefits a couple years ago, I was speaking -- sorry, I spoke a couple of years ago and I went back as a guest. And my mom and I were sitting there. And someone got up there and was speaking about how he was on the 78th floor of the South Tower. He remembers the firefighters bringing him down to safety. And I just looked at my mom, and we both got chills.

Later that evening, we got to meet him. And that was just such a special moment. And every time I hear of someone in the South Tower and were by the 78th floor, I just -- I know it's a gift of my dad wanting me to meet them. and I could -- I just know that he was there and it's beautiful.

TAPPER: And you've been part of -- I mean, that's just such an unbelievable story. That must have been -- I got chills. I can't imagine what it was like for you and your mom. And you're part of a group, and this is how I met you, called Tuesday's Children.


TAPPER: It's the children of the people who were lost that day, especially first responders. Tell me -- because I'm sure there are people at home who want to know -- want to do something, want to help.

What has Tuesday's Children meant to you? How has that helped you and others like you get to this moment, where it's 20 years later and you seem fantastic?

LEAVEY: Yes. So Tuesday's Children was such an important part of my healing process because they brought together all of us, you know, who had lost a parent. And the ability for me to talk to someone else and have that sense of community, and their sense of support, as well.

I mean their programming not only brought us together for different events but, you know, they also engage us in acts of service.

And that was a way that I always want to honor my dad. And it's just the, you know, the man he was and carrying on his legacy.

And one of my favorite memories with Tuesday's Children was going to New Orleans with Habitat for Humanity after Hurricane Katrina.

And you know, this whole idea of helping heals. And you know I --

TAPPER: You were 15 at the time, right?


TAPPER: Something like that.

LEAVEY: Yes, yes. Yes. And I remember, it was so cool, because you know, I had heard about Habitat for Humanity. And here were -- there was a bunch of 15-year-olds building a house, having a hammer and needing -- not only that but just being able to meet the people of New Orleans.

And just seeing how there's so much healing of, you know, people of different tragedies. And being able to share your story and it's just beautiful.

I mean, I think that's something that I always try to take away, that you know, 9/11 was a dark day. And yes, there was, you know, so much hurt. But out of it, there was a lot of beauty in the way in which people came together.

Not only the people who lost that day but the people who survived and who carry on their stories, and especially those people who are living with 9/11 these days with the illnesses, and especially thinking about all the people who lost their lives, you know, afterwards in Afghanistan.

And I just think if -- you know, if there's a way of kind of carrying on all those, you know, who have passed away, and just remembering the people who they are and doing a good deed in their honor.

TAPPER: Well, you're an incredible memorial to your father, to Joe Leavey. The incredible Cait Leavey. And I'll be seeing you later tonight --


TAPPER: at the "SHINE A LIGHT CELEBRATION" at 8:00 tonight on CNN. Thank you so much for being with you.



LEAVEY: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: It' s so great to see you.

Coming up, President Biden is going to visit the memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Also, actor Robert De Niro will join us live to talk about how far New York City has come.

This is CNN's special live coverage. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Please join us later tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll be hosting "SHINE A LIGHT". It is a worldwide television special produced by 9/11 Day -- that's the organization that created and organizes the September 11th national day of service and remembrance.

Tonight's program will be a tribute to the 2,977 innocent people killed in the attacks on 9/11, and to their families, survivors, recovery workers, volunteers, military members who gave much, much more after that terrible day.

Joining us now is one of the celebrities who you'll see this evening, who will be taking a part in that special. Celebrated actor, director, producer Robert De Niro.


TAPPER: He is a founding trustee of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. He has been extensively involved in efforts to commemorate that day for decades. Good to see you again, Mr. De Niro.

As we mentioned, you're going to be taking part --

ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR: Good to see you.

TAPPER: -- in the "SHINE A LIGHT" special tonight.

You obviously --


TAPPER: -- appeared at the concert for New York City just one month after 9/11. You've been very -- you've been the face of New York in so many ways, the recovery of New York. Why has this been so important to you?

DE NIRO: Well, I'm a New Yorker, through and through. So it seems like the logical thing that I should do. To whatever extent that it can be of help.

TAPPER: You lived just nine blocks from Ground Zero on that horrible day.


TAPPER: I'm wondering what memories you have, what you're thinking about today.

DE NIRO: Well, I'm thinking that time went by and so many things have happened to us all since then and now. And it's an emotional time, remembering specific things that happened.

And it's just that I hope that people remember for time to come that things like this can be avoided through diplomacy, through whatever. I know that's easier said than done, but we really -- this is an awful nightmarish incident. And all the people who are there today talking about their loved ones. We have to find a way to move forward as far as the animosity, to say it mildly, toward each other and cultures, and so on, and even what we're going through today in this country.

We have to find a way to stop the, I don't know a better way of saying the fighting. And just having things like this happen. It just makes no sense.

TAPPER: You've also been very active in helping to bring back businesses and economic prosperity to Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of that horrible day. People might forget that it wasn't just a matter of the horrific terrorist attack. It was the aftermath, the economic emptiness, the void.


TAPPER: Part of that effort by you included the Tribeca Film Festival, of course.

DE NIRO: Right.

TAPPER: How do you think New York has changed since the attacks 20 years on as a city?

DE NIRO: Well, from my perspective, I don't know. There could be other feelings about it. I think it comes back because New York will, in my opinion, always come back. It's a tough city, and the people here are resilient.

We'll just come back, and we are coming back. And things -- time moves on. It's just the terrible things that happen before and in between that we wish we didn't have to have -- didn't have to have, period.

But it's changed. It's come back. The neighborhood, downtown, Tribeca has come back.

Now we have the pandemic. That's another horrible situation. But we'll get through that, too. And it's just all the loss of life and sadness and unhappiness in between. I wish we'd get out --

TAPPER: This year is obviously momentous --


TAPPER: Yes. No, absolutely.

DE NIRO: Sorry?

TAPPER: It's the 20th anniversary. This is the 20th anniversary -- I'm sorry about the delay. And it's so disconcerting and unusual, I think, for older folks like you and me to see this new generation of, you know, brave first responders, police officers, firemen, firewomen.

DE NIRO: Yes. Yes.

TAPPER: Marines who have no memory of 9/11. None. They were either kids or not even born.

DE NIRO: Yes. None, yes.

TAPPER: What do you hope the memorials that you're involved with will teach the next generation?

DE NIRO: That this can happen again. Unfortunately and that kids have to be reminded. And of course, one of the most horrible of them all was the Holocaust and what preceded it. And how it was allowed to grow and become a malignant cancer.


DE NIRO: And that can happen again. We don't want that. No one wants that kind of thing to happen again. Kids have to be reminded in school what happens historically can happen again very easily.

It happens in another form, but it's the same disease. That, to me, is the most important thing of 9/11. A reminder. Because 20 years is really not much time in the grand scheme of things.

But that to me is the important thing. Reminders -- reminders in school, that this can happen, why it happens, how people start thinking that they have a right to do these types of things for whatever their cause is.

That's the thing that concerns me the most because then history repeats itself. And we don't want this kind of history to repeat itself.

TAPPER: Absolutely not. Robert De Niro, an honor to see you again. Thank you so much for joining us.

And you can join us tonight for a special tribute to the families of September 11th. "SHINE A LIGHT" will begin at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Coming up next, President Biden will visit the memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Country star Alan Jackson will join us to talk about the timeless song he wrote after the 9/11 attacks.

This is CNN's special live coverage. Stay with us.



BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer, live at the Pentagon as we continue CNN's special coverage of September 11th. Once again, we're back with Dana Bash, John King and Kaitlan Collins.

About a decade or so ago, John, you were in Shanksville. You had a chance to interview now President Joe Biden. And let me play a little clip, and then we'll discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, literally, you know, I used to commute every day. I got in the train. I was leaving. I took the early train. My wife was leaving the school to teach school.

She called me on my cell just around Aberdeen, Maryland, just before Baltimore. And said, Joe, my God. My God, Joe. A plane just flew right into the World Trade Tower. What do you think that means? I said, honey, I -- I don't know. And then she said, ok, ok. And she said -- and then she said, I have got to get ready.

And she called back in a few minutes and she was (INAUDIBLE) -- oh, my God, Joe. Oh, my God. There's a plane, it's running -- oh, my God. It ran right into the second tower.

And I said, honey, this is a big problem. This sounds coordinated. And with that, by that time, other people started getting calls on the train.

But we went into the Baltimore Tunnel, so you lose the coverage as you go into the tunnel there. By the time I came out, there was -- I had everybody on the train. I know all them coming up Senator, you know, what's going on? What happened? And I said, I'm not sure, you know.

We all were listening -- we were making calls. I got off the train, I walked out of Union Station. I could see off to, in my case, 1:00, this plume of smoke. It was the Pentagon. And everybody is saying, well it is a car bomb. It is a truck bomb. No one knew what it was.

And then we got up, and everybody had been evacuated from my office. I went in to make sure everybody was out. And we were standing out there in that park alongside the Russell office building.

And I said, we ought to go back into the Senate. I mean, I don't think it looks good, us leaving the Senate. And I started walking back up and that's when a law enforcement officer said, Senator there's a report of an incoming, an incoming aircraft. We've got to get out of here.

And it was just, you know, it was almost unbelievable. And you know, you can appreciate, that's why I said of President Bush today, I mean, imagine being president. Having that news given to you and having to react and trying to compute all this and figure exactly where to go.

I mean, I thought the way he handled events from that moment until we took down the Taliban was textbook.


BLITZER: It's amazing how all of us of a certain age, we remember everything about that day 20 years ago.

KING: Some irony about the very end where he's talking about how he thought President Bush was textbook until we kicked out the Taliban. But the Taliban are now back in power.

But I think more important, the rest is he is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And yet, he was, like millions of Americans that day, on his way to work. He took the train, the Amtrak every day.

His wife calls him the first time, something is going on. Then the second plane hits. His wife calls him -- oh, no, this is not an accident. This is something big and real.

And then what is happening? You know, again, even the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on a train, spotty cell phone service, into the tunnel. It just reminds you of the scramble of that day that even the people at the highest levels of our government were trying to find out what the hell is going on.

And then to the point at the end where he tried to get back to the senate. We talked about this a little bit earlier. He, one of many in the Congress, and President Bush as well on the other end, the executive branch of the government, who knew amid all the horror, amid all the uncertainty, amid the terror and the response to it, it was important as soon as possible to try to show some signals of continuity of government.

He wanted to get back in. They told him he could not. It was hours later when they came back to the steps. But the instincts, Dana spoke earlier of Senator Byrd. President Bush was fighting his own national security adviser trying to get back to the White House. They didn't think it was safe.

Senator Biden wanted to go speak on the Senate floor. Officials in both the legislative and executive branch wanting to essentially send the message, yes America has taken a horrible punch but America is still standing.


BLITZER: Yes. And it's interesting, Kaitlan, you cover President Biden. He wanted to get out of Afghanistan a long, long time ago when he was vice president during the Obama administration. Didn't succeed.

COLLINS: I think that is what so much of what fed into the decision that he made as president. It was clear since he was elected and beat former President Trump that this was a decision he was likely headed in the direction of.

And so, of course, he spent months, they did an assessment when he first got into office of what to do about the deadline that had been set by former President Trump. Of course, that deal that he had struck with the Taliban.

But so much when you talk to advisers during that chaotic withdrawal about what was happening, was they said this is a decision that he advocated for every year when he was vice president. This is an argument he made, an argument that he did not win ultimately with former President Obama.

And so they said it was just always clear when he got in office, that was the decision he was going to make. BASH: And just to hear what he said ten years ago to John about

imagine what it was like on that day to be president of the United States.

KING: Right.

BASH: 10 years hence, he is president of the United States. God forbid, you know, that will not be an experience that any president will have to deal with. And there were so many things that were changed from continuity of government to basic security to make sure that that doesn't happen.

But it's kind of remarkable to hear him say that at that time, given where we are now especially the fact that he was the president who decided no more in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: He was determined, John, to get all U.S. troops out. Originally the Trump deadline was May 1st. He said all U.S. Troops will be out by September 11 and he changed it to August 31st. He wanted them out, irrespective of what was going to be on the ground necessarily.

KING: All right. To Kaitlan's point, he very much wanted to be out by the anniversary -- 20th anniversary of 9/11, even back then. That was ten years ago today, wasn't part of the rearview mirror (ph).

I remember having a conversation with him about Afghanistan. He said hopefully it won't be too much longer. He had hoped that this day happen when he was vice president, when Barack Obama was in the White House.

But we had George W. Bush, you know, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and then Joe Biden finally ending America's longest war.

Look, there's going to be conversations about that, you know, for weeks and months. They're going to hear it. The secretary of state is going to be on Capitol Hill next week to talk about this.

The president promised an orderly exit. It was not orderly in the end. So there's going to be a big debate about that. But I do think the idea that then a senate leader.

Now this is his portfolio, all of these questions. A, accountability for everything that has happened every day as president, whether it is their withdrawal from Afghanistan or the coronavirus pandemic.

And B, that it is now his inbox, it's now his inbox and his presidential daily brief that he gets every day that includes what President Bush would tell you, President Obama would tell you after, I remember extensive conversations with then Vice President Cheney about this -- the dark things that a president and a vice president and people that have access to that information have to read every day.

They're different now than they were 20 years ago. But in some ways, you know, the issue is still the same. COLLINS: And I think one of the clearest things that we got a look at

during this Afghanistan withdrawal was his view of foreign policy. And as I was saying earlier, this has shaped what everyone views foreign policy, this lens that Americans view it through.

And he made that clear when he was defending the withdrawal, talking about how it was being executed. He made very clear he does not think nation building works. Something that past presidents have tried, past presidents have agreed with him on but have never been able to follow through on stopping that.

He does not feel that that works. And you've got a really clear view of the president's foreign policy doctrine when he was speaking about that and what he wants it to look like going forward. And that could potentially reshape it for years to come.

BLITZER: -- yes, go ahead.

BASH: And could also potentially change because we remember George W. Bush, then governor George W. Bush campaigning against Al Gore, promising that there would be no nation building.

And then he became the 9/11 president and suddenly he was the leader of a country that was not only trying to push the Taliban out but nation building, trying to build a democracy, trying for 20 years to the point where his successor, four presidents later, Joe Biden was so sure before America pulled out that they were a strong enough democracy to hold on, that he said just a month earlier that the military, that the Afghan military that America spent 20 years training would be ok and it wasn't.

BLITZER: He is heading to Shanksville. Once again, he was with you in Shanksville --

KING: Right.

BLITZER: -- 10 years ago. He's now heading there once again.

I want to take a quick break. But very quickly -- we're not going to hear directly from him, he is not going to speak. So they issued this video yesterday. But any explanation why we're not going to hear his thoughts on this special day?

KING: Kaitlan covers the White House. My understanding is the president decided to release that video and to yield 20 minutes later to President Bush and to allow his vice president to speak.


KING: He did speak there ten years ago. We just saw the picture, we were walking up on the hillside. The grass had grown back then 10 years later.

But he talked at great length about the heroes who died there and about the scarred earth, talking about how they were literally vaporized when that plane crashed. But just to the point of why he decided not to speak today.

COLLINS: And then -- well, the vice president spoke of course as he did and then the White House said essentially that they wanted him to let each of these commemorations speak for themselves and that they didn't think it was a natural fit to have the president speak.

They wanted him to go, he wanted to go to all three of the locations of the attacks, of course. But they said they wanted to let those moments at those locations be what spoke for what happened today on 20th anniversary.

BLITZER: Our special coverage is going to continue right after this quick break.