Sixteen years ago, members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol building. The nation was attacked by al-Qaeda. Hijackers took control of four airliners to execute this horrific attack. New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania were impacted. The World Trade Center was destroyed. The Pentagon was hit. And an airliner intended to strike the White House crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers staged an attempt to retake the aircraft from the terrorists.
During a press conference on the Capitol Grounds, then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert said that whenever this country is attacked, we, as a Congress, stand united. He declared, “Senators and House members, Democrats and Republicans, will stand shoulder to should to fight this evil,” he said. “We will stand together to make sure that those who have brought forward this evil deed will pay the price.” At the time, we didn’t know who committed this attack, though the then-speaker said we have our suspicions and we will act accordingly.
“We will stand with the president. We will stand with this government. And we will stand as American together through this time,” Hastert added. Other members of the congressional leadership, like then-Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD), delivered remarks as well. As the presser closed, members of Congress gave a moment of silence for the victims, their families, and the first responders. Then, standing side-by-side, they began singing God Bless America. It was a poignant moment. During a day when there was much grief and pain, this was a welcome sign. A nation united, stronger than ever. United by shared values, loss, and the indefatigable mantra that we will never give into terrorism. We’ll fight it. We still are.
It has become something of an annual tradition, where, given the political climate now, we all grieve and remember as Americans (via ABC News c. 2012):
Hundreds of Members of Congress gathered on the East Front steps of the Capitol late this morning to sing an emotional rendition of "God Bless America," to mark the eleventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The annual Congressional tradition, to sing together on the steps of the Capitol, is a recreation of the moment when they first spontaneously sang the patriotic song the night of Sept. 11 in 2001 to show unity in the face of despair that day.
This year, lawmakers sang along as the Marine Corps Band performed the "Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America."
Leaders of both the House and Senate paid tribute, especially to the courage of the passengers on board United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pa., noting that the flight was headed to the Capitol building.