Instead, during various stops at all three memorial sites — Lower Manhattan, Shanksville and the Pentagon — members of the Biden administration tried to present a cleareyed view of what unfolded that day, as well as size up the toll the aftermath has taken on Americans.
Vice President Kamala Harris said in remarks delivered near Shanksville that the tragedy of the attacks had shown how “fear can be used to sow division,” and stressed that America’s diversity was its greatest asset.
“If we do the hard work of working together as Americans, if we remain united in purpose,” she said, “we will be prepared for whatever comes next.”
Ms. Harris, memorializing the 40 passengers and crew members who fought back, encouraged Americans to remember their sacrifice.
“On this 20th anniversary, on this solemn day of remembrance, we must challenge ourselves, yes, to look back. To remember. For the sake of our children. For the sake of their children,” she said. “And for that reason, we must also look forward. We must also look toward the future. Because in the end, I do believe, that is what the 40 were fighting for: their future, and ours.”
People who have known Mr. Biden for decades, who was a senator of Delaware and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, said they saw a parallel between what he had said in the aftermath of the attacks and the language he uses to guide Americans through the coronavirus pandemic.
“People were walking up to him,” said Margaret Aitken, who was press secretary for Mr. Biden when he was a senator. “He was literally stopping people on the street who looked upset and giving that message: ‘We’re going to be OK. We’re going to be all right. There’s nothing that when we come together as a nation we can’t overcome.’”
She added, “It’s very consistent with what he has been saying all along” through the pandemic.
Michael Gold contributed reporting.