(Trends Wide) — Senator Joe Biden was on the phone with his wife during their morning commute from Delaware to Washington when the second plane hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
“My God. My God. My God.”
“Jill, what is it?”
“Another plane … the other tower.”
Biden, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was on the 8:35 a.m. train from Wilmington to Washington, like most mornings, on September 11, 2001, when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York. On Saturday, now-President Biden commemorates two decades since those terrorist attacks by visiting the three places where the hijacked planes crashed: Ground Zero in New York, Shanksville, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
In his memoir, “Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics,” Biden describes how he tried to project strength and unity to a shocked American public on that fateful day. He also writes about the message he conveyed to then-President George W. Bush, whose war in Afghanistan, launched in the aftermath of the bombings, would later end with a chaotic and bloody retreat that shook the Biden government.
When he got off the train at Union Station, Biden said he saw a brown haze of smoke in the sky behind the Capitol dome – a third plane had just hit the Pentagon.
He made his way to the Capitol, which was being evacuated along with all the House and Senate office buildings. The then-senator had insisted to his daughter, who called him to beg her to leave Washington, that the Capitol was the safest place, even when people thought there was another plane heading for the building, and the leaders of Congress had been airlifted. in helicopters to a bunker.
“Damn it, I want to go in,” he told a police officer after climbing the stairs of the Capitol and trying to enter the building. The agent refused to let him pass. As he recounted in his memoirs, Biden considered it important “to show the country that we were still working.”
Linda Douglass, who was a reporter for ABC News at the time, said she saw Biden and then-Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia arguing “who was the longest, because Biden wanted Congress to be reconvened.”
“He really felt it was important to get the government back on track,” Douglass said in an interview with Trends Wide.
Biden agreed to appear on ABC News and followed Douglass a few blocks to where they had the camera installed.
Douglass said that when he interviewed Biden, Bush was on Air Force One, then-Vice President Dick Cheney was in a secure bunker, and Congressional leaders had also been brought to safety.
“It was extremely important for the country to listen to a high-level figure in government,” said Douglass.
According to a transcript of the broadcast, Biden said that the United States would locate those responsible for the attacks and, in the meantime, urged the population to be “calm and calm.”
“Terrorism wins when, in fact, it disrupts our civil liberties or closes our institutions,” Biden said. “We have to show that none of those things have happened.”
He added: “This nation is too big, too strong, too united, too powerful in terms of our cohesion and our values to let this tear us apart. And it will not happen.”
Former Rep. Bob Brady of Philadelphia, a longtime friend of Biden’s, was with the then-senator for much of that day. Brady said he was driving Biden and his brother Jim home when the president called from Air Force One to thank Biden for his comments on television.
“It was important to show the American people that now everyone was safe and that we were all in this together. There were the Democrats, the Republicans … we were going to fully support the president. And that’s the message that Joe sent, and for that’s what the president called him, “Brady said in an interview with Trends Wide.
During that call, Brady said that Biden urged Bush to return to the nation’s capital. “Mr. President,” Biden told Bush, “go back to Washington.”
“You don’t want people to see our leader stuck in a bunker. Get him out of there, put him back in the White House,” Brady said. “And he did, to his credit, he did.”
Biden wrote about the call with Bush in his book, saying that Bush told him he was heading to an undisclosed location in the Midwest because the intelligence community had advised him not to return to Washington.
“I remembered at that time a story about the leader of the French resistance, Charles de Gaulle, near the end of World War II. When France was liberated, there was a celebratory parade down the Champs Elysees in Paris with dignitaries, generals and officers headed by Gaulle himself. As they walked towards the Hôtel de Ville, shots rang out from above, and everyone fell to the ground except de Gaulle. He continued to walk upright, “Biden wrote.
After telling Bush that he should go back, Biden wrote: “I hung up the phone, and there was silence in the truck until Jimmy spoke.”
Biden wrote that his brother told him: “The employee who suggested that he call you just got fired.”
Trends Wide’s Kevin Liptak and Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.