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What Trump's And Biden's Speeches At Sept. 11 Memorial Say About Them As Leaders

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Nineteen years ago today, two planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York, another into the Pentagon, and a fourth plane heading for the U.S. Capitol crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pa., after passengers overtook the hijackers and forced the plane down.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

That field in Shanksville is now the site of a Sept. 11 memorial. And it's a place where both President Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, went to honor those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The heroes of Flight 93 are an everlasting reminder that no matter the danger, no matter the threat, no matter the odds, America will always rise up, stand tall and fight back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: It's not only to consciously know that what you're about to do is likely to cost you your life, I mean, that an incredible thing.

CHANG: The events today give Americans a glimpse of how each man leads during times of national crisis and challenge. And to talk more about that, I'm joined now by Toluse Olorunnipa. He's a White House reporter for The Washington Post. Welcome.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA: Good to be here.

CHANG: So we just heard a little bit from both men during the events in Pennsylvania today. Tell me how, would you compare the way President Trump and former Vice President Biden honored this day?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, surprisingly, they both took similar tones. They were both pretty somber. Normally from President Trump, we hear sort of a combative approach where he's attacking or making political points. But they both said that they were going to put the politics aside, at least for the moment. Joe Biden said that he was not going to be running any political ads. He tried to put the focus on remembering what happened 19 years ago and not so much on the fact that we have just in a matter of days a contentious presidential election.

President Trump tried to do something somewhat similar as well, talking about the sacrifice of the people who were focused on responding in the immediate aftermath of the crisis in 2001. And, you know, if you read between the lines of some of the things President Trump said - talking about honoring police, honoring our heroes - there was a little bit of politics in there. But for the most part, he pulled his punches and did not make it a political speech. And he's been giving political speeches for the most part for the last several weeks.

CHANG: Right. Well, I mean, Sept. 11 is a somber day every year. But this year, on top of that, there is so much happening in this country, right? We have the pandemic, the recession, unrest over racial injustice. Can you talk about what differences you've seen between how these two men have responded to the current moment?

OLORUNNIPA: Yeah, incredibly stark differences. President Trump has really looked at this as a political challenge, not so much a national security challenge or a health care challenge. And he's tried to sort of win the moment or win the news cycle. Meanwhile, we've seen the death numbers pile up. And we've seen the tragedy and the problems just continue because there's not a broader national strategy. Joe Biden has really taken President Trump to task over that, saying that he would be a much more somber leader. He would listen to experts. He would take the time to focus on the problem and not just try to win the political argument.

CHANG: That is Toluse Olorunnipa of The Washington Post. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

OLORUNNIPA: You got it. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.