Sept. 11 Ceremonies Display Political Unity

Hope for the future, rather than pessimism about it, characterized the remarks of many of the speakers at events commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Sunday's ceremonies, and the display of political unity they expressed, were very different from what's been going on lately on Capitol Hill.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Let's talk about how long the political unity we saw yesterday will last with NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, David.

GREENE: So, we heard that tape that Don played of members of Congress gathering, singing "God Bless America" 10 years ago on the Capitol steps. They're going to come to the same place tonight and remember 9/11. What happens once that ceremony is over and they go back inside?

ROBERTS: Well, I don't think they'd start fighting right away. But they're likely to soon.

Look, yesterday, we saw President Obama together with former President Bush at ground zero. We heard Vice President Joe Biden speaking words of praise for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, and a Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania being very gracious to his Democratic colleague in Shanksville.

Now, all those are the kinds of scenes that most voters say they'd like to see more of. The whole day reminded people of the time when the country did come together, and it seems to be making politicians somewhat reflective. Senators made speeches last week about how we pulled together then, and it's not happening now. Majority Leader Harry Reid said they were not Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, red states or blue states. We were Americans.

Now, frankly, it's more in the Democrats' interest to say that. With the presidency in their hands, it works for them to try to reignite the rally-'round-the-leader spirit of the early post-9/11 days.

GREENE: Well, can President Obama reignite that? As we look, you know, the weeks, months ahead and where there's some potentially bruising battles that are coming.

ROBERTS: Well, it certainly takes a unifying event like those horrific attacks to bring together that kind of spirit. But the solemn weekend, combined with new fears of some possible terrorist action on the anniversary, did remind everyone that there is still an outside enemy, a threat that we could be unified against. And last week, President Obama extended the National Emergency Act for another year, saying that the terrorist threat continues.

The anniversary ceremonies, I think, also reminded everyone - and the speeches of the leaders certainly underlined the reason we're in Afghanistan. And since that war has become increasingly unpopular, it doesn't hurt the president to have that opportunity, especially on a weekend where more than 70 Americans were injured there.

It also gave him the opportunity to talk about the good things about America: all the past crises we've overcame as a nation. It all argues for people here in Washington pulling together, and, of course, that's - he wants them to pull together at the moment - is on the $447 billon jobs plan he outlined in this week.

GREENE: Sure.

ROBERTS: And he's in the Rose Garden today announcing he'll send the legislative version of the plan to Congress this evening after both Houses come back into session.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about a specific piece of legislation like that. I mean, when president proposed it in the big speech, all the punditry said, you know, it's going to land in Congress, and the wrangling begins. Anything we saw yesterday make you think differently?

ROBERTS: Well, Republican House leaders, as we went into the weekend, sent the president a letter saying that the proposals, quote, "merit consideration by the Congress," and they'll instruct committees to immediately begin the process of reviewing and considering your proposals. It doesn't mean they'll agree with him, but at least they want to appear to be ready to work with him, saying we share your desire for bipartisan cooperation. But they, of course, made it clear they expect him to give as well as take in the legislative process.

GREENE: Sure.

ROBERTS: But they're obviously feeling heat, too. People like them even less than they like the president. John McCain said last week only about 10 percent of the people say they approve of Congress, and none of them show up at my town hall meetings. So they're getting pressure, as well. But I think - there's a special election in New York tomorrow for what should be a safe Democratic seat. If that goes into Republican hands, as it might do, it would give - be seen as a rejection of President Obama and give the Republicans lots of steam.

GREENE: All right. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Monday mornings. Thank you, Cokie. Always a pleasure.

ROBERTS: Mm-hmm.

GREENE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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