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Biden, on 9/11, returns to strong suit: personal rapport

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Democratic presidential candidate and former US vice president Joe Biden (left) and Vice President Mike Pence greet each other during the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York September 11, 2020. — Reuters pic
Democratic presidential candidate and former US vice president Joe Biden (left) and Vice President Mike Pence greet each other during the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York September 11, 2020. — Reuters pic

NEW YORK, Sept 12 — Joe Biden attended 9/11 events yesterday where he interacted closely with victims’ relatives and engaged face-to-face with firefighters, a departure from the US presidential hopeful’s more distanced campaign style in recent months prompted by concerns over the coronavirus.

The Democratic nominee’s encounters, including snapping selfies with a child and then later handing out beers to firemen, revealed a candidate slowly edging back into his element as a politician who thrives on personal interaction and compassion for fellow Americans.

During a break in the Ground Zero ceremony Biden approached Maria Fisher, age 90 and in a wheelchair, who showed him a photograph of her son Andrew who died in the World Trade Centre.

“It never goes away,” Biden told Fisher who repeated his words, as the pair, both wearing masks, discussed the pain of losing their sons.

“God bless you Joe!” someone said as the former vice president accepted a white rose from his wife Jill and presented it to Fisher.

Biden, 77, has been scarred by tragedy in his own life. His first wife and daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972, and he lost his son Beau to cancer in 2015.

The setbacks have made him an empathetic presence on the campaign trail, where he has often been seen whispering in a voter’s ear or consoling a struggling parent.

But for the past several months he has largely foregone such encounters, opting instead to deliver speeches in a controlled setting where the number of guests is strictly limited.

Despite his observation of the “solemn” yesterday, Biden was more engaged than on recent campaign stops.

In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, he paid his respects at a 9/11 memorial to the 40 passengers and crew who died aboard Flight 93, talking in hushed tones to families of some of the victims.

But he also paid a visit to Shanksville Volunteer Fire Company Station 627, a garage he visited as vice president in 2012.

He exchanged fist bumps, posed for pictures, — and made good on an eight-year-old vow to share beers with firefighters there.

Biden retrieved six packs of Iron City Beer and Bud Light from his vehicle and presented them to the mostly masked first responders.

“I keep my promises!” Biden said.

During yesterday’s New York ceremony he stood just a few feet from Vice President Mike Pence, with whom he chatted and shared an elbow bump, and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Biden bent down for a selfie with a boy, and stood inches from a masked military man in a purple beret as the two talked.

Yesterday saw more exuberant Biden campaign behaviour than Wednesday in Michigan, where he met small groups of socially distanced voters.

It still remains a far cry from President Donald Trump, who has barely toned down his rallies during the pandemic.

On Thursday in Michigan, thousands of supporters, most without masks, crowded into a partially open-air hangar to see the president speak. — AFP

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