Historical Highlights

President George W. Bush Addressed a Joint Session of Congress on the Subject of the War on Terrorism

September 20, 2001
President George W. Bush Addressed a Joint Session of Congress on the Subject of the War on Terrorism Image courtesy of the House Photography Office Nine days after the attacks on the United States, President George W. Bush addressed a Joint Meeting of Congress.
On this date, President George W. Bush addressed a Joint Session of Congress on the subject of the war on terrorism. With a nation still reeling from the attacks on September 11, 2001, President Bush spoke, not just to American citizens, but to a global audience. “Our grief has turned to anger; and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done,” he declared. During his speech, the President demanded that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan surrender all leaders of Al-Qaeda to the United States, protect foreign nationals working in Afghanistan, release foreigners unjustly imprisoned, and close terrorist training camps. He also announced the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and a cabinet-level position charged with coordinating national security, headed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. The President also stressed that the country was at war with “a fringe form of Islamic extremism,” and not with Islam, Muslims, or Arabs. Members of Congress abandoned traditional partisan applause, as the entire chamber rose on many occasions to support the President. “There was no glitz or glamour in his speech—there was no table thumping, no roaring that we’ll go out and get these people,” observed Representative Vern Ehlers of Michigan, “just a straightforward laying out what our country faces.” Representative Martin Meehan of Massachusetts also claimed he had “never seen the Congress so bipartisan.” Many guests directly affected by the attacks filled the House Galleries. In his opening remarks, President Bush paid respects to the hundreds of foreigners killed in the attacks, especially the British nationals represented that night by their Prime Minister, Tony Blair, whom Bush thanked for crossing “an ocean to show his unity with America.” The President also reached out to Lisa Beamer, wife of Todd Beamer, one of the passengers killed on United Airlines Flight 93, whose passengers overtook terrorists on a plane later suspected to be destined for the Capitol. New York Governor George Pataki, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and the New York City Police and Fire Department commissioners, all attended the historic Joint Session. Vice President Dick Cheney, House Majority Leader Richard Armey of Texas, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson remained in “secure locations,” given the heightened security concerns in the aftermath of the attack on American soil. Democrats declined to deliver the response message traditionally given by the minority party after a Joint Session. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri announced this decision the morning of the speech: “We want America to speak with one voice tonight…and we want enemies and the whole world and all our citizens to know that America speaks tonight with one voice.”

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