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Obama at Ground Zero Seeks Closure

Thursday, 05 May 2011 01:28 PM

President Barack Obama laid a wreath at New York’s “Ground Zero” as he sought to bring some closure to the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil after the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and send a message that world will never forget those whose lives were sacrificed.

Obama’s stop at the Sept. 11 memorial was his first visit to the former World Trade Center site as president. He talked with emergency workers and will have a private meeting with some of the family members of those killed in the attack.

Obama was cheered as he stopped earlier at a firehouse at 8th Avenue and 48th Street, the headquarters of Engine Company 54, Ladder Company 4 and Battalion 9, which lost 15 members who responded to the attacks, the single largest loss of life at any firehouse among the 343 firefighters who died.

“What happened on Sunday, because of the courage of our military and the outstanding work of our intelligence, sent a message around the world, but also sent a message here back home -- that when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say,” Obama told the firefighters.

Obama was greeted upon arrival in the city by Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor at the time of the attacks. The two had lunch at the firehouse, along with fire department officials, before heading to Ground Zero. He also stopped at the First Precinct police station in lower Manhattan.

The trip comes four days after Obama announced to the world that bin Laden had been killed by U.S. commandos at the Pakistani compound where he was hiding. Ending a debate within his administration, Obama said yesterday that he won’t release any images of bin Laden’s body or his burial service at sea.

Bin Laden Photo

“We don’t think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference,” Obama said in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” program. “There are going be some folks who deny it. The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this earth again.”

Obama’s approval ratings have risen in several polls since he announced bin Laden’s death, almost 10 years after the terrorist leader orchestrated the 2001 attacks that killed about 3,000 people at the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in suburban Washington and in a field in Pennsylvania.

Even with the 2012 election on the horizon, Obama’s aides said the president wants to keep the appearance of politics out of the ceremony in New York and the meeting with Sept. 11 families.

New York’s Loss

The president’s visit is intended to “recognize the terrible loss that New York suffered on 9/11” and bring a “sense of closure” to all Americans, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama flew to New York.

Obama invited former President George W. Bush, a Republican who was in office when the attacks occurred, to join him in New York. Bush declined the offer.

“He appreciated the invite but has chosen in his post- presidency to remain largely out of the spotlight,” David Sherzer, a spokesman for the former president, said in an e- mailed statement. “He continues to celebrate with all Americans this important victory in the war on terror.”

Bush plans to mark the 10-year anniversary of the attack at the World Trade Center site in September, Sherzer said. Carney said Obama also will be there.

Public Approval

Like Bush’s in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Obama’s standing with the public got a boost following bin Laden’s death, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted May 2 and 3. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they approved of the president’s overall job performance, up from 46 percent last month.

Still, the tragedy of Sept. 11 is still acute, and infusing today’s events with politics is a potential liability for the president. Bush was criticized in 2004 when he released campaign ads using images of emergency workers in the rubble of the World Trade Center towers.

“The line between honor and exploitation is a fine one, but I think it is entirely appropriate that President Obama visit Ground Zero,” said Mark McKinnon, vice chairman of Public Strategies Inc., a political consulting firm, and a former media adviser to Bush. “As long as there is no dancing in the end zone, the families of the 9/11 victims deserve the closure.”

Economic Concerns

The state of the economy will be the primary driver for voters in the next election, not bin Laden, according to Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and onetime political aide to former president Bill Clinton who now is advising an independent campaign group that will raise money for the 2012 contest.

The president’s higher overall ratings in the New York Times/CBS News poll didn’t extend to voters’ view of his handling of the economy, where his approval rating fell to the lowest level since he took office. Thirty-four percent of those polled said they approve of Obama’s handling of the economy, down four percentage points from a poll conducted two weeks ago.

The nationwide telephone survey of 532 U.S. adults has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

A Labor Department report tomorrow may show that the jobless rate held at 8.8 percent in April, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. Unemployment is forecast to average 8.5 percent in 2012.

Still, Begala said Republicans will have a harder time criticizing Obama’s leadership or his ability as commander-in- chief because of the successful operation against bin Laden.

Dislodging an Incumbent

“They’ve lost at least one of the two lines of attack that they need to dislodge an incumbent president,” Begala said.

A ceremony also was to be held today at the Pentagon, where 184 people died when one of the four commercial airliners hijacked by al-Qaida terrorists slammed into the building. Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to lay a wreath at the memorial there and meet with family members of those killed, along with first responders.

Obama also plans to attend a rally with soldiers tomorrow at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The base is home to several units that recently returned from Afghanistan, which the U.S. invaded in October 2001 because the Taliban government was harboring al- Qaida.

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President Barack Obama laid a wreath at New York s Ground Zero as he sought to bring some closure to the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil after the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and send a message that world will never forget those whose lives were...
Thursday, 05 May 2011 01:28 PM
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