On Capitol Hill
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del.
I was, as usual, taking the train. I got almost to Baltimore and my wife called and said, "Joe, I'm looking at the TV. I'm looking at the TV. I can't leave the TV. A plane just crashed into the World Trade towers." I said, "Honey, was it an accident?" And she said, "I don't know." I am now calling my staff: "Is it an accident?" They don't know. The next thing, my phone rings and my wife says, "Oh, my God. A plane just went in the second tower."
Now, I am almost in Washington. I get off the train. It was a vivid memory. I walk outside and look over to the southwest, and there is this black plume of smoke. There are all kinds of rumors: a car bomb, and so on. Everybody is standing out in the park to the other side of the Russell Building. I said, "I am going to the floor." They said, "They won't let you on the floor." I said, "God damn it, we should not be out. We should be in session, people seeing us on the floor."
So I try to walk up the stairs of the Capitol, and a cop stops me. Just then a cop comes running through and says, "Senator, get out, evacuate the area, evacuate the area, incoming, incoming plane." I come running back here to make sure everybody was out of my office. The cop wouldn't let me in here. I said, "I'm going in anyway, it doesn't matter." And I came running down, and everybody was gone from the office.
I heard that some congressmen and senators were over at the police headquarters by the Monocle restaurant. I asked where Daschle was, where the leadership was. I got a private briefing upstairs. They had already briefed Daschle and others, and said they should go to a secure bunker. I called and said, "Tom, don't go. Don't do that. Stay here." He explained that he felt that since others were doing it, he was obliged to. He didn't think he should. Byrd refused to go, God love him, which I loved.
"I said, 'God damn it, we should not be out. We should be in session, people seeing us on the floor.' "
Congressman Brady and a couple of others agreed with me that we should go back into session and be seen. I raised that with 10 or 12 of my colleagues, and it fell on deaf ears. They didn't think it was a good idea. There were a lot of press outside that building. I came out and indicated that we should go back and that America should calm down.
Everybody was leaving, so I hitched a ride with Brady. About halfway between here and Baltimore, my cell phone rang, and it was the president of the United States. He called to thank me for standing tall. He just saw me on television. I asked, "Mr. President, where are you?" He said, "I'm on Air Force One." I said, "You comin' home?" He said, "No." I said, "Where are you going?" He said, "Undisclosed location." I said, "Mr. President, don't do that. Come home." He said, "The security people insisted that we do this." I said, "Mr. President, I can't second-guess them, but if I were you, I would look them in the eye and say, is there any real, compelling reason they think you are in danger? Because, otherwise, Mr. President, they are going to take you anywhere." I said, "Now is the time to be seen." He thanked me for my advice and we hung up.
And the next thing I knew, I was home. It's like 5:30 or 6:00. I had been running around the Capitol trying to get everybody to go back into session. Next thing I see, seven o'clock, a group of senators who had left or were going to leave, all back on the steps of the Capitol, and I am up in Wilmington.
Biden is currently vice president of the United States.
This interview originally appeared in the August 31, 2002 edition of National Journal.
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