Obama, administration officials pay tribute to 9/11 victims

Photo-op alert.

The L.A. Times:

Reporting from Washington – On a rainy morning eight years after airline-hijacking terrorists attacked the World Trade Center towers in New York and struck the Pentagon outside of Washington, President Obama today took part in a somber wreath-laying at the permanent memorial to victims of the attacks at the Pentagon.

And high-ranking members of the Obama administration fanned out across the country to take part in the first official National Day of Service and Remembrance.

“Nearly 3,000 days have passed, almost one for each of those taken from us,” Obama said, making this pledge outside the Pentagon: “Let us renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric attack and who plot against us still. . . . We will do everything in our power to keep our nation safe.”

The president and first lady also held a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House this morning at the time of the first attack. A bell rang three times and a bugler sounded taps as the couple bowed their heads and placed their hands over their hearts.

“Once more we pause, once more we pray, as a nation and as a people,” Obama said later at the Pentagon, remembering the victims of the attacks. “We read their names. We press their photos to our hearts. . . . We recall the beauty and meaning of their lives.”

The president also saluted the members of the military still at war today in conflicts that ensued after the 9/11 attacks.

“We pay tribute to the service of a new generation, young Americans raised in a time of peace and plenty, who saw their nation in a time of need and chose to serve,” Obama said, with a few preacher’s words for the assembly: “Scripture teaches us a hard truth: The mountains may fall and the Earth may give way, the flesh and the heart may fail, but after all our suffering God and grace will restore you and make you firm, solid and steadfast.”

Today, the president maintained, the nation should observe “not the human capacity for evil, but the human capacity for good. . . . On this first National Day of Service of Remembrance, we can summon once again that ordinary goodness of America,

“On a day when others sought to sap our confidence, let us renew our common purpose,” Obama said. “United not only in our grief, but in our resolve to stand for one another, to stand up for the country we all love.” He called a commitment to the nation’s core causes “the strongest rebuke to those who attacked us.”

Eight years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the U.S. still is at war — engaged in escalating combat on foreign soil against “the people who knocked down these buildings.”

Those were the bullhorn-broadcast words of then- President George W. Bush standing on the rubble of the trade center towers in 2001 and vowing revenge against the attackers.

Today, the architect of the attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, is a prisoner of the United States who has undergone repeated “waterboarding” in the government’s pursuit of intelligence about terrorism. The financier and chief of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, remains at large. And the U.S. military is deploying increasing forces in Afghanistan in a war launched after the attacks.

Now, it is Obama who holds the bullhorn.

He has committed the U.S. to a stepped-up assault against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan while drawing down troops in Iraq with a goal of removing them by 2011. Obama has pledged to close the military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where Mohammed and other enemy combatants have been held. Obama has banned torture in interrogations, and his Justice Department is investigating the excesses of interrogators whom the Bush Justice Department authorized to employ harsh tactics.

Americans still hand the Republican Party a slight edge over the Democratic Party — by a ratio of 49% to 42% — in their view of which party will better protect the U.S. from international terrorism and military threats, according to the findings of a Gallup Poll released today.

Gallup started asking that question in September 2002, when Bush’s approval ratings were near 70%. The GOP then held a substantial edge on the security question: 50% to 31%.

The newest findings came from an Aug. 31-to-Sept. 2 survey, which also poses a question that Gallup has been asking Americans since 1951: Which party is better for keeping the country prosperous?

Republicans have not held a significant edge on the prosperity question since September 1994. In November of that year, the GOP won majority control of Congress.

Now, with Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, the party holds a 50%-to-39% edge over Republicans on the prosperity question — with Obama’s own approval ratings hovering at 51% this week, down from his high of 69% after inauguration, in the Gallup Poll’s daily tracking.

Obama, who is asking Congress to authorize the biggest overhaul of American healthcare since Medicare was created in the 1960s, will sit today for an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” which will air Sunday night. On Monday, he plans a major speech about the nation’s financial crisis, one year after the government undertook the biggest intervention in the nation’s financial markets since the Great Depression.

On Thursday night, the president sent to Congress an official notification of the continuation of the national emergency that was declared after the attacks in 2001. Federal law requires termination of a national emergency before the anniversary of its declaration, unless it is continued. Obama has posted in the Federal Register a declaration that the emergency declared after the attacks , will remain in effect for another year.

“The terrorist threat that led to the declaration on September 14, 2001, of a national emergency continues,” the president’s letter to Congress states. “For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect after September 14, 2009, the national emergency with respect to the terrorist threat.”

Today also has become a National Day of Service and Remembrance, under the Serve America Act that the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy sponsored and Obama signed in April. The act also is named for Kennedy.

And many high-ranking members of the Obama administration have signed up today for community service.

Vice President Joe Biden and wife, Jill, traveled to New York to attend the city’s Sept. 11 commemoration at Zuccotti Park. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was serving as the keynote speaker at the first 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance at the Beacon Theatre in New York.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk are painting houses and visiting with residents of the Supportive Housing Apartments for the Formerly Homeless in New York.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is preparing meals for homeless shelters, soup kitchens and feeding programs with participants of DC Central Kitchen’s culinary job-training program in Washington.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is touring a U.S. Vets shelter and serving food to homeless veterans in Las Vegas.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is assisting in a mass vaccination for prevention of swine flu at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell are taking part in an event with the Get Help Now and Wills for Heroes program in Pittsburgh.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is helping City Year AmeriCorps members beautify an elementary school in Washington.

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