Biden calls for ‘national unity’ in Alaska speech on 9/11 anniversary

President Joe Biden spoke at a JBER 9/11 memorial in his first official Alaska stop as president.

President Joe Biden on Monday called for national unity at a memorial ceremony in Alaska on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, speaking to service members in the audience at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

“It’s more important than ever that we come together around the principle of American democracy, regardless of our political background,” he said. “We must not succumb to the poisonous politics of difference and division.”

In his first formal visit to the state as president, Biden arrived in Anchorage for a two-hour stop and was met by Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson and U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola at JBER.

During the visit, an F-16 fighter jet intercepted and escorted a small plane that entered Anchorage airspace closed for Biden’s visit.

Also in attendance at the Anchorage ceremony were Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Climate Envoy John Kerry, who traveled with the president on his just-concluded trip to Asia.

The ceremony, held in a hangar set against the background of the Chugach Mountains, was attended by Alaska-based soldiers and airmen. It began with a land acknowledgment from the president of the Native Village of Eklutna, Aaron Leggett.

Speaking at the ceremony, Dunleavy emphasized Alaska’s unique location and urged Biden and Congress “to continue to recognize the strategic significance that Alaska plays” in the country’s national security.

“There has been and always will be bad actors in this world who want to do harm to America,” said Dunleavy. “For Alaska, we are at the tip of that spear. Where we stand today in Anchorage, we are more than 3,000 miles away from the World Trade Center in New York. Yet parts of Alaska are just 2.4 miles away from one of our nearest neighbors, Russia. Service men and women here at JBER intercept Russian fighters on a regular basis. Alaska is also within reach of Korean missiles, and Chinese warships ply the waters just off our coast.”


Since 2001, U.S. presidents have typically participated in observances for the 2001 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at memorial sites in New York City, Virginia or Pennsylvania. This is not the first time a president will mark the day elsewhere, but it is the first time a president marks the day in a western U.S. state.

Peltola spoke about what she said was the importance of oil development in Alaska for national security in pointed remarks after a Biden administration decision last week to cancel oil leases on federal land.

“Alaska’s location, people and resources are among America’s greatest strategic assets. Alaska energy is one of our nation’s best defenses against foreign aggression. It’s why the (National) Petroleum Reserve was originally created after World War I and why the trans-Alaska pipeline was built in the 1970s to combat the Middle Eastern oil embargo,” Peltola said.

“Today, our president is returning from meeting partners in Asia, who seek independence from the influence of authoritarian states and see Alaska’s resources as a means of achieving their own freedom, showing that America remains a beacon of hope around the world,” Peltola added.

The ceremony drew several state lawmakers — but no Republican members of the Legislature. Biden made his first Alaska appearance just days after his administration’s decision to revoke oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of a series of energy-related policy decisions that have drawn ire from Alaska politicians who see oil and gas development as essential to the state’s economy.

Both of Alaska’s Republican U.S. senators were absent from the ceremony. Sen. Dan Sullivan was in Marine Corps reserve duty in Virginia, according to his office. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was in Washington, D.C. Both had harsh words for the president after the oil lease cancellation.

Sullivan had said the administration’s policy moves are “a war on Alaska.” Murkowski had said it would be “incredible to think that people are going to trust this administration on anything related to oil in Alaska again.” Peltola, a Democrat, said she was “deeply frustrated” by the canceled oil leases.

Biden arrived on the military base before noon on Air Force One. After his 20-minute remarks, he spent nearly an hour shaking hands, taking selfies, and speaking directly to troops and local politicians in the audience, before returning to his plane and departing from Alaska.

Biden began his speech by saying he has “something in common” with Dunleavy: They are both from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“I wish I had him playing on my high school ball club when I was playing. I could have been an all-American, having you in front of me,” Biden said. Dunleavy’s towering stature of 6 feet, 7 inches often draws comments from politicians who share a stage with him.

Peltola accompanied Biden back to Washington aboard Air Force One, according to a statement from her office. “On the flight, they are expected to discuss the President’s trip to Asia and Alaska’s role in Pacific Rim strategy and energy markets,” the statement said.

Biden did not mention any Alaska-specific policies during his speech, instead speaking about the importance of remembering the 9/11 attacks and calling for unity in the face of ongoing threats.

“It shouldn’t take a national tragedy to remind us of the power of national unity,” Biden said.

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Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at