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President Biden Speaks to Troops Ahead of Memorial Day Weekend; Republicans Block Insurrection Commission. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 28, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Good afternoon. I'm Victor Blackwell alongside Alisyn Camerota.

We are going to take you right to the Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Virginia.

You see on stage there the first lady, Dr. Jill Biden. This is ahead of Memorial Day. And she is speaking about her family's experience with -- as being a military family, Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Yes, Victor, because, of course, Beau Biden, their son, served in the Iraq War, their late son, I should say.

And so they know the cease-fire sacrifices on this eve of Memorial Day weekend. They know the sacrifices that all of these military families that they are speaking to make, and what it's like to be one of them.

And so they speak, obviously, from their own personal experience. And we will tune in when the president starts speaking about what message he wants to send on this Memorial Day.

BLACKWELL: And we know that this has long been something that the first lady has made a priority. She, even as second lady during the Obama administration, working with the former first lady Michelle Obama, they made working with and supporting military families a priority, a project that they made sure stayed at the forefront of the administration.

And that's something they are continuing to do on Memorial Day weekend.

So, let's listen now to the first lady, Dr. Jill Biden.


JILL BIDEN, FIRST LADY: And we must do everything we can to help them carry the weight of their grief, and always, always honor their service.

Ten years ago, first lady Michelle Obama and I created Joining Forces. And this work continues to be one of my top priorities today. We are going to make sure that our military and veteran families, caregivers and survivors have what they, what you need to survive.

Our military is a community bound together by love, love for our country, love for the men and women who serve beside you or the service members in your life, and love for the communities that you all have built together.

It's time that our nation matches that devotion.

May God bless you all, our troops and their families.

And now I'm excited to welcome our next speaker, Brittany Bean (ph). In addition to being a mom of three, a veteran herself and a fellow teacher, Brittany has navigated much of this pandemic while her husband, Major Nathaniel Bean (ph), is deployed to Afghanistan.

With Brittany's service, this is their family's seventh combined deployment.

Brittany, like so many moms, I know that you are the rock of your family.

CAMEROTA: OK. We have been listening to the first lady, Jill Biden, speak to other military families -- she herself is one of them -- talking about all the shared sacrifice that families make.

We will tune back in to Joint Base Langley as soon as the president starts speaking.

BLACKWELL: All right.

Let's move to the big vote today. Republicans are going to block this bill to create a commission to find the truth about what happened on January 6 at the U.S. capitol, final vote 54-35.

These Republicans -- I think we have their faces and names -- voted for the commission, six of them, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Bill Cassidy, Ben Sasse, and Rob Portman. They all voted for moving forward with this commission. Ten votes were needed to create the bipartisan commission, though.


And, also, it should be noted...


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Out of fear or fealty to Donald Trump, the Republican minority just prevented the American people from getting the full truth about January 6.

The Republican minority just prevented the Senate from even debating the bill. This vote has made it official: Donald Trump's big lie has now fully enveloped the Republican Party.

Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they're afraid of Donald Trump. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK, CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju has been following all of this for us.

So, Manu, as Victor just said, six senators voted in favor of getting information, of finding the truth. Nine senators did not vote at all. How do they explain that one?


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, nine Republican senators didn't vote.

Two Democratic senators also did not vote. They -- we're reaching out to their offices. We have gotten some explanations. Others have not yet gotten back to us. This is the beginning, of course, of a holiday weekend. There's a recess next week. And some may have just decided that their vote would not have made a difference at the end of the day and left town.

Now, one Republican senator actually who left would have voted for this. That's Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. He was one of the seven who voted to convict Donald Trump at his impeachment trial, in the second impeachment trial. His office said that he had a family commitment and couldn't attend, but he would have voted to move forward.

The two Democratic senators who were not there were Senators Patty Murray of Washington state and also Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Both of them would likely have been yes-votes here. So that would have been 57 votes.

That would still have been short of the 60. Now, I just asked Senator Chuck Schumer about some of the next steps here, but also about the two Democratic senators who skipped and his reaction to that.


RAJU: You said that you're open to a select committee in the House. Would you encourage your chairmen in the Senate to investigate this, number one?


RAJU: And, number two, two members of your caucus skipped today's vote. Is that OK with you, given how important of a vote this was?

SCHUMER: OK. I'm not going to get into individual members of our caucus. We always made sure we'd have enough votes on all of the issues.

On the first issue, I have a lot of faith. Already, Senator Klobuchar and Senator Peters are looking extensively at what went on January 6. And I have a lot of faith in what they're doing. And a lot of it, they're working together. And, occasionally, they reach out to other committees like Intelligence that -- where they need some expertise there, too.


RAJU: So, he was talking about an investigation that's happening already in the Senate Rules Committee and Senate Homeland Security Committee.

They actually have a report that's expected to come out in the first week of June that will look at security on the Capitol on January 6, on that day. He would not talk about additional Senate investigations that might be reached. I tried to press him on that. He would not answer that question.

But he did express support for a House-led select committee going forward. He said better to investigate than not at all. And the Democrats in the House are keeping that option open. So expect that to be the next step here.


RAJU: They could have a vote, set up that select committee, but Democrats would run the committee, which would be different than the outside commission, which would be split 50/50 -- guys.

CAMEROTA: Manu, thank you very much for that breaking news on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, we want to bring you back now to President Biden speaking at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Virginia, to mark Memorial Day and service members.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... as vice president around the world.

And you are -- simply stated, you are the backbone of the country. You're the backbone of the country. And although our son Beau was the attorney general of the state of Delaware, and had spent nine months in Kosovo they to -- as assistant U.S. attorney, trying to set up their criminal justice system.

And I might say, I can do this with the military. I'm going to brag about him a little bit. He is the only foreigner to have a war memorial erected to him in Kosovo just below Fort Bondsteel, and a highway, the first highway they built named after him, the Joseph R. Beau Biden Memorial Highway.

And he was proud as hell of his work. But then he decided that -- he kept -- he contracted an exposure to a virus in -- when he was in Kosovo and in Turkey as a civilian. And he came back with a problem.

But he kept going to Walter Reed. I couldn't understand why. He was -- they finally found -- it was called ankylosing spondylitis. They finally found a cure, prevented him from having what they call bamboo spine. But he kept going back. And I couldn't understand why. I thought I

knew why. But, Gov, he went back because he was trying to get an exemption to be able to join the United States Army. He was a sitting attorney general.

And as all my colleagues, Governor and Bobby Scott and the congresswoman, they all know, is that, when you do that, he joined the National Guard. And his unit deployed. And he wanted to deploy to Iraq with them.

So, he literally had to give up his seat temporarily. He couldn't have any business done -- as you National Guard folks know, you can't do any business with the state if, in fact -- you're now federal property.

And so he gave up the seat and had the courage to appoint the fellow who had been the Republican attorney general as attorney general while he while he went, the proudest thing he ever did, the proudest thing he ever did.


And he spent a year in Iraq. And it was -- it was one of the great honors of his life to do it. He won the Bronze Star, the Conspicuous Service, and other awards, like many of you have. But he never, ever talked about it.

I remember we had an event at the White House. I shouldn't be talking so much about my son, but I'm not going to apologize for it. We had an event for Iraqi veterans at the White House.

And the president, without telling me and Jill, invited Beau to be there with another 75 soldiers and sailors and airmen.

But he wouldn't wear any of his decorations. And General Odierno, called him -- he had served under him -- and said, put them on now, I swear to God. Walking out of the V.P. residence, he wouldn't put them on until then.

That's the first time I ever saw the Bronze Star on him.

But I'm telling you that is, he is like a lot of you. You do your duty. You don't expect anything for it, except be a little -- have -- get a little respect. You deserve so much more. You deserve so much more.

And I'm honored to be joined today by Governor Northam and by two great representatives of the commonwealth, Congresswoman Luria and Congressman Scott.

And I want to thank -- thank you for all that you do to represent these service veterans, because they are devoted to you. It's the family members, caregivers, survivors all call Virginia home.

I'm especially honored to share the stage with Brittany and Jared (ph) and Nathan (ph) and Margaret Katherine (ph). I love those barrettes in their hair, man. I'll tell you what. Look at her. She looks like she is 19 years sitting there like a little lady with her legs crossed.

Brittany, you are doing triple duty as a veteran, a military spouse and a teacher. And, kids, thank you for being there for your mom. I can remember all those times when -- all of you remember, the spouses, when your husband or wife had deployed. Every morning, you wake up, you say that little extra prayer while you're drinking your coffee.

You just spend a little more time wondering. And you make up 1 percent of the population, defending 99 percent of the rest of us. And we owe you.

But you do your job so gracefully. You hardly ever say anything about what you're doing. But it matters. It matters to your families for that time you're sitting across from an empty at the kitchen table and the dining room table for those birthdays, for Christmases, or holidays where they're gone.

You know, there is a famous English poet who said they also serve who only stand and wait, also serve who only stand and wait.

I know Major Bean, having been deployed to Afghanistan during the pandemic has only made everything much harder during the pandemic. I want to thank you so much, your entire family's service to our country. You're all incredible. You so underestimate how important you are.

And there is nothing that Jill and I enjoy more than spending time with our troops here and abroad. You're stationed here in the United States or deployed around the world. I have been in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan over 20, I think 25 times.

And I have seen -- I wish everyone could see what you do when you're there. I wish they could see every day how you saddle up, how you jump in that cockpit, just see. No, you're just -- just doing your job.

Not to mention all the troops I have had to chance to visit in the Middle East and Europe and the Indo-Pacific region. We have traveled all over. Jill has traveled all over with me, on her own visits to service members in Iraq.

I think she is the only second layer lady ever to go into the middle of a war zone, because she wanted to be there and see it.

I always want you to know, always, that the issues you and your family are facing, we need to know how we can support you better. I mean it sincerely from the bottom of my heart, support you better.


There is a reason for that. And I said, we Bidens are proud to have family in the military. And our son Beau's service was among the achievements, as I said, he was most proud of.

My heart swelled seeing him in uniform. When I went into Iraq, I was there for five of the times when he was in Baghdad. And I remember the first time I saw him. He had -- his name was Hunter. I said: "What in the hell happened?"

He said: "I didn't want anybody giving me special favors because my -- the vice president is my dad. He got permission to put a different name tag on."

I also remember what it was like to listen to him talk about the needs that people had when he got back home, about all the folks he served with who came back with post-traumatic stress. And he was back being attorney general and having to deal with it.

But here is the point. You do so much and you ask for so little. You know, our experience is a fraction of what so many of you and your families have gone through. A family like Brittany and her kids, you're the absolute best America has to offer, our heart, our honor, your solid steel spine.

So, my message to all of you is quite simple. Thank you. Thank you. Not thank you for your service. Just thank you for who you are, because it's contagious. Thank you for choosing the selfless service to your country.

I know we have mostly soldiers and airmen in attendance today, but there can be a lot of friendly rivalries on a base. Each branch has its own proud, cherished traditions and culture.

I know how proud Langley is of the premier fifth-generation F-22 Raptor wing. Oh, God, I would love to go up in one of those.

I asked -- I'm your commander in chief. Why the hell can't I command you let me go up in one? But they won't let me do that. Fort Eustis hosts one of the Army's busiest airfields, which is led by the Air Force, primarily used by the Navy. It's all about as joint as it can possibly get.

Every day, more than 20,000 members of the Air Force and Army, along with civilian personnel, come to work with a shared mission. No matter which branch of our armed forces you proudly represent, you're part of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world. That's not hyperbole, the greatest fighting force in the history of the world.

You're integral to the most powerful nation in the world. There's been no Army, Navy or Air Force ever like you, or Marines. Here at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, you enable the success of our mission around the world. You provide intelligence support and airpower.

You ensure our soldiers and airmen are ready, trained to deploy to COCOMs around the world, including, this year, adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols and quarantines before troops ship out, in order to minimize the spread of the virus.

I know that many of you deployed yourselves, probably more than once. Over the past 20 years, our volunteer force and our military families have made incredible sacrifices for this country. Early in my term as vice president, when I traveled overseas, I'd sometime meet service men and women who were deployed their fourth, fifth, sixth times. I remember going into Baghdad. I used to remember -- and those -- you

had to fly in. We'd do those circular deals, so we wouldn't get shot at and wouldn't get hit.

And I walked up in the cockpit of a Silver Bullet that they had me in. And I asked -- I said how many -- there were five people in the cockpit, the loadmaster as well.

I said, "how many of this is your first tour?"

Nobody raised their hand.

"How many the second tour?" Nobody raised their hand.

"Third tour." Two raised their hand.

"Fourth tour." Two raised their hand.

"Fifth tour." One raised their hand.

No other war have you gone in, served, and got back up again and go back again and again and again.


Once, once wiping the blood off the seat off of the seat of an up- armored Humvee is enough to get you focused. But then to saddle up next time and go back, and back again? You're incredible. You're incredible.

The country, they owe you. And they -- this time, they are more appreciative. In my generation, you didn't come home and get off an airplane in a uniform in an airport coming back from Vietnam. People treat with you respect, but they have no idea the sacrifices you make in theater.

As we bring -- as we get close to bringing down the longest war, drawdown in American history, our troop presence in Afghanistan, I want to recognize the significance to what all of you, the United States armed forces, have accomplished in the past 20 years.

Went to a Afghanistan with a clear purpose, to get the people who attacked us on 9/11 and to prevent al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base from which to attack America in the future. We achieved that purpose. You achieved that purpose. Year after year, deployment after deployment, American troops pursued the terrorist threat through some of the most unforgiving terrain on the planet.

I have now had the pleasure, as they say, of being in every part of Afghanistan, from the FOBs but in the Kunar Valley, down south, looking at all those poppy fields, and all in between.

It is one godforsaken landscape. But you all just showed up and did your job, and helped make sure there hasn't been another attack on the homeland from Afghanistan for the last 20 years. And you never gave up until we delivered justice to Osama bin Laden. I got criticized after 9/11 for saying we will follow the son of a gun

to the gates of hell until we get him. That's exactly what you did. That's exactly what you did. And you got him.

And now, as we draw down, we are also going to focus on the urgent work of rebuilding over-the-horizon capabilities that will allow us to take out al Qaeda if they return to Afghanistan, but to focus on the threat that has metastasized.

The greatest threat and likelihood of attack from al Qaeda or ISIS is not going to be from Afghanistan. It's going to be from five other regions of the world that have significantly more presence of both al Qaeda and organizational structures, including ISIS.

We're going to update our security stance and turn our forces to the threats that will dominate our future to ensure the security of the American people for decades to come.

But we will never, ever, ever forget the terrible cost that we paid as a nation. Many of you likely lost friends or colleagues in Afghanistan and Iraq. I know this is personal to you, especially as you head into Memorial Day weekend.

We, as a nation, will always remember and pay tribute to those we lost. After I announced my decision to end the war in Afghanistan, the first thing I did was visit -- visit Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, just walked through those headstones, seen all those stones.

Our son did not die in Iraq, but he came back -- went as an incredibly healthy young man and came back with a severe brain tumor, because his hooch was just downwind from those burn pits. I don't know that's the reason, but he came home, and it was just a matter of how long he would live.

I still carry with me every single solitary day -- I have my staff for the last -- since the war began, I have my schedule. In the back of my schedule, it says, U.S. daily troop update, U.S. troops died in Iraq and Afghanistan, 6,927, not over 6,000, total fallen angels across the board, over 7,000.

Every one of these lives lost is a tragedy, an empty seat at the dinner table, a missing voice at the holidays. Every one of them left behind a whole community, not just one, a whole community.


We can never repay that debt. But I promise you this, to all the Gold Star families across the country. We will never, ever, ever, ever forget.

Each year, Memorial Day offers us a chance to reflect on the enormity and the sacrifices that generation after generation of Americans has made and the responsibilities that we bear, citizens bear, in return.

I have said many times -- it used to get me in trouble 25 years ago, 30 years ago in the Senate -- America has many obligations. We only have one sacred obligation, obligations to our children, to the elderly and so many more things, only one sacred obligation, is to prepare you when we send you into harm's way with everything you need, care for your families when you're gone, when you come home, care for you and your families and the needs that may be a consequence of the war.

We owe it. We owe it to you. We particularly owe it to the memories, to affirm the very best of what America stands for, to uphold, honor the democratic values that are the foundation of the strength of this nation.

You know, I sometimes get criticized for saying what I deeply believe, having done this for the bulk of my life. We're in a -- we're in a battle between democracies and autocracies. The more complicated the world becomes, the more difficult it is for democracies to come together and reach consensus.

I have spent more time with President Xi of China than any world leader has for 24 hours of private meetings with him with just an interpreter, 17,000 miles traveling between China and here.

He firmly believes that China, before the year 3035 (sic) is going to own America, because autocracies can make quick decisions.

But America is unique. Of all the nations in the world, we're the only nation organized based on an idea. Every other nation, you can define by their ethnicity, their geography, their religion, except America.

America is born out of an idea. We hold these truths to be self- evident that all men and women are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, et cetera.

None of you get your rights from your government. You get your rights merely because you're a child of God. The government is there to protect those God-given rights.

No other government has been based on that notion. No one can defeat us except us. It's an idea that generation of patriots have fought and died for to defend it.

I know that's a conviction that, each and every day, you all share. That's why you joined up, why you're running around danger when duty calls.

It's my greatest honor -- this should not surprise anybody -- it should be anybody's greatest honor in all of life -- to be able to serve as your commander in chief, no greater honor.

So, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for spending this time with me today. And thank you for your commitment to our country, because, without you, as I said -- I will end where I began -- you are the spine of America, the spine.

And I can't tell you how much it matters. I think you underestimate just the consequence of who you are and what you do. So, thank you. May God bless you, and may God protect our troops.



CAMEROTA: We have been listening there to President Joe Biden speak at Joint Base Langley-Eustis with what sounded like great personal pride and gratitude to these service members and their families