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Clinton, Trump Evoke Close Ties To New York In Discussing 9/11 Attacks


Sunday marks 15 years since the September 11 terror attacks. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will both stay off the campaign trail in observance of the anniversary, though Clinton is scheduled to attend a memorial service. 9/11 remains a recurring theme in the race for president all these years later.

We wanted to take a look at how each candidate talks about those attacks in their pitch to voters. And we're going to hear two reports now and begin with NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton had only been New York's junior senator for nine months when the twin towers fell. That night, she was interviewed outside the U.S. Capitol by CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And are you getting any new information from law enforcement or out of New York about just the extent of the loss in New York?

HILLARY CLINTON: Jon, I don't think we even have an inkling of the devastation...

KEITH: The depth of the tragedy hadn't even sunk in. And already that night, Clinton seemed to approach the attack and its aftermath as a series of tasks to be accomplished - an emergency declaration to secure, terrorists to strike, recovery funding to be lined up.


CLINTON: And then we're going to be getting down to the hard work of determining what we need to do. I've, you know, told my colleagues that this is the kind of devastating attack and loss of life that is almost beyond imagination. And you know, New York is going to need a lot of help.

KEITH: About a week later, she toured the devastation at ground zero with her fellow senators and then New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The scene was captured in this video AP video.


CLINTON: One of the firefighters just said to me - he said, you know, Senator, please, please don't let anybody forget what happened here, and don't let anyone forget us.

KEITH: Congress passed legislation to cover health care costs for 9/11 first responders after Clinton left the Senate, but a bill she worked on gets credit for helping pave the way for it.

Fifteen years after the attack, the image of Clinton soaked in rain, surrounded by rubble frequently appears in campaign videos touting her accomplishments. And in speeches on the campaign trail, she often invokes that time.


CLINTON: I remember how it felt on the day after 9/11. And I bet many of you do as well. Americans from all walks of life rallied together with a sense of common purpose on September the 12th.

KEITH: This was Clinton speaking in Cleveland shortly after another deadly attack, this one at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, carried out by a man who claimed allegiance to ISIS.


CLINTON: We had each other's backs.

KEITH: Clinton also presents her efforts following 9/11 to secure recovery funding as an example of her ability to work across party lines.


CLINTON: I was a senator from New York. There was a Republican president, a Republican governor and a Republican mayor. We did not attack each other. We worked with each other to protect our country and to rebuild our city.


KEITH: When Clinton talks about 9/11, she doesn't mention her votes for the Patriot Act or to authorize the Iraq War. She skips ahead to a scene in the White House Situation Room. Clinton was there alongside President Obama and other top national security officials as Navy SEALs carried out the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As she tells it, it's a story about the difficult choices that ultimately a president has to make on his or her own. She was among those encouraging the president to go for it. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: I'm Sarah McCammon. For Donald Trump, a native New Yorker, September 11 has been both a symbol of his hometown strength and an example of the need for strong leadership.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking German).

MCCAMMON: Speaking on German television soon after the attacks, the real estate developer reflected on the aftermath.


DONALD TRUMP: Well, I just went to what they call Ground Zero. I've never seen anything like it - the devastation, the human life that's been just wasted for no reason whatsoever. It is a terrible scene. It's a terrible sight. But New Yorkers are very strong and resilient, and they'll rebuild quickly.

MCCAMMON: He also called on the U.S. government to respond quickly.


TRUMP: They have to find out exactly what the cause was, who did it. And they have to go after these people.

MCCAMMON: Years later as a presidential candidate, Trump was much more definitive in placing blame.


TRUMP: I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering. So something's going on.

MCCAMMON: That was at a rally in Alabama last November. His suggestion that American Muslims celebrated the attacks has been debunked several times based on reviews of news coverage and statements from local authorities.

But one of his strongest rhetorical moments also centered on 9/11 after this comment by Texas Senator Ted Cruz during a Republican primary debate hosted by the Fox Business Network.


TED CRUZ: You know, I think most people know exactly what New York values are.

MCCAMMON: Attempting to capitalize on uneasiness about Trump among social conservatives, Cruz painted a picture of New Yorkers as liberal on social issues and obsessed with money and media attention. Trump came back swinging with his own definition of New York values.


TRUMP: When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York...

MCCAMMON: He praised the courage of the people of New York amidst the devastation.


TRUMP: And it was with us for months - the smell, the air. And we rebuilt downtown Manhattan. And everybody in the world watched, and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers. And I have to tell you that was a very insulting statement that Ted made.


MCCAMMON: On the stump, Trump gives little credit to President Obama or Hillary Clinton for killing Osama bin Laden and blamed President George W. Bush for the attacks while running against his brother, Jeb. He insists he's the best person to protect the country from terrorism.


TRUMP: I would have been tougher on terrorism. Bin Laden would have been caught a long time ago before he was ultimately caught prior to the downing of the World Trade Center.

MCCAMMON: And the ongoing threat of terrorism has been one of the driving forces behind Donald Trump's candidacy. Sarah McCammon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.