Biden honors fallen service members, defends ‘right to vote freely and fairly’ in Memorial Day speech

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.

  • President Biden honored fallen soldiers at a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • Biden addressed the families, hoping to offer them support as they remembered their loved ones.
  • “I know the incredible pride you felt seeing your loved one wear the uniform of our country,” he said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden on Memorial Day honored the fallen service members who sacrificed their lives for the US during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, speaking of the difficulties of overcoming loss and emphasizing the need for maintaining democratic values.

While speaking to military families about grief, Biden spoke of his son Beau, an Iraq War veteran who passed away from brain cancer in 2015.

Biden reassured the audience that he and first lady Jill Biden understand many of their challenges.

“To those who mourn a loved one today, Jill and I have some idea how you are feeling,” he said. “Our losses are not the same, but that black hole you feel in your chest, like it is going to suck you in, we get.”

“I know the incredible pride you felt seeing your loved one wear the uniform of our country and the pride they felt wearing it,” the president continued.

He added: “Yesterday marked the anniversary of his [Beau’s] death and it’s a hard time for me and my family just like it is for so many of you. It can hurt to remember, but the hurt is how we feel and how we heal. I always feel Beau close to me on Memorial Day. I always know where I need to be, right here honoring our fallen heroes.”

The president emphasized that US troops around the world have fought for – and continue to fight for – democracy.

Read more: What we learned about Joe Biden from riding Amtrak with a Senate colleague who has known the president for five decades

“Democracy must be defended at all costs for democracy makes all this possible,” he said. “Democracy. That’s the soul of America. And I believe it’s a soul worth fighting for. And so do you, a soul worth dying for.”

Biden emphasized the importance of protecting democratic norms.

“Our troops have fought this battle on fields around the world but also a battle of our time, and the mission for each of us, each and every day,” he said. “Democracy itself is imperiled here at home and around the world.”

Biden then touched on voting rights, an issue that he has vocally championed as Republican-led legislatures across the country have sought to pass numerous election-related bills this year.

The president has criticized the new election law in Georgia and the restrictive voting bill under consideration in Texas, calling on Congress to pass the For the People Act, the sweeping voting rights legislation.

“Democracy thrives, and the infrastructure of democracy is strong, when people have the right to vote freely and fairly and conveniently,” he said. “This Memorial Day, remember that not all of us are called to make the ultimate sacrifice. We all are called by God and by history and by conscience to make our nation free and fair.”

After concluding his speech, Biden and the first lady were in the process of leaving Arlington Cemetery in the presidential motorcade but made an unscheduled stop to meet with several families who came to pay their respects to fallen soldiers, according to ABC News.

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Rep. Ruben Gallego pushes for the VA to strip benefits from service members, veterans who stormed Capitol

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., speaks as the House reconvenes to debate the objection to confirm the Electoral College vote from Arizona, after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) speaks as the House reconvenes to debate the objection to confirm the Electoral College vote from Arizona, after insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

  • Rep. Gallego wants service members who participated in the Capitol riot to lose their benefits.
  • He said the group’s actions are “not representative of the large population of American veterans.”
  • Nearly 20 percent of the individuals charged in the riot had a military background, per NPR.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, a Marine Corps veteran, last week called on Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough to withdraw benefits from active-duty service members, veterans, or military retirees who participated in the deadly January 6 Capitol riot.

“The behavior of these individuals is not representative of the large population of American veterans, the vast majority of whom served honorably and are appalled by the thought of insurrection in the country they served,” he wrote in a letter. “Yet, many of the veterans and service members who attacked their own government actively and enthusiastically enjoy benefits not available to their fellow citizens.”

Such benefits include access to disability compensation, more affordable healthcare options, and vocational opportunities.

Gallego added: “This situation is unjust. Any retiree or service member who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 forfeited their moral entitlement to the support of the people of the United States.”

Read more: Meet the presidential confidants, Delaware’s closely-knit and well-positioned congressional delegation, Joe Biden’s entrusted with cementing his legacy

Nearly 20 percent of the individuals charged in the riot had a military background, according to an NPR report.

Gallego, a member of the US House Armed Services Committee, asked McDonough to work with Attorney General Merrick Garland to identify the riot participants, citing 38 U.S. Code ยง 6104 as a rationale to withdraw benefits.

Section 6104 of the US code covers benefits for veterans and their dependants.

In addition to McDonough, Gallego also sent letters to Garland, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Secretary of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Federal prosecutors have already charged more than 300 people for their involvement with the attack, with more individuals expected to face federal charges.

In his personalized letter, Gallego asked Austin and Mayorkas to “quickly identify, investigate and prosecute any active service member or retiree who participated in the attack.”

He added: “Insurrectionists should not enjoy benefits they no longer deserve.”

During the insurrection, Gallego, who served in the Iraq War, sheltered several members of the media in his office.

Five people died during the violent rioting spree, including Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, in what was the most significant breach of the US Capitol since 1814.

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