WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden lauded the sacrifice of generations of U.S. troops who died fighting for their country as he marked Memorial Day with the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
Biden was joined by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff, for the 155th National Memorial Day Observance. He had a moment of contemplation in front of the wreath, which was adorned with flowers and a red, white and blue bow, and later bowed his head in prayer.
Monday’s federal holiday honoring America’s fallen service members came a day after Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached final agreement on a deal that would raise America’s debt limit and that now awaits approval by Congress.
As it stands, the agreement would keep nondefense spending roughly flat in the 2024 fiscal year and increase it by 1% the following year. The measure would allow for 3% defense growth in fiscal 2024, to $886 billion, and then another 1% in fiscal 2025, to $895 billion.
Biden has taken pride that his Democratic administration has overseen a time of relative peace for the U.S. military after two decades of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It’s been nearly 21 months since Biden ended the United States’ longest war in Afghanistan, making good on a campaign promise to end a 20-year-old “forever war” that cost the lives of more than 2400 U.S. service members.
The war in Afghanistan, however, ended in deadly and chaotic fashion on Biden’s watch in August 2021 with critics blasting the administration’s handling of the evacuation of some 120,000 American citizens, Afghans and others as poorly planned and badly executed.
The Biden administration last month released a review of the last days of the war, largely blaming his Republican predecessor, President Donald Trump, and asserting that Biden was “severely constrained” by Trump’s decisions.
The U.S. now finds itself leading a coalition of allies pouring tens of billions of dollars in military and economic aid into Ukraine as it tries to repel the Russian invasion, which appears to have no end in sight.
While making clear that he has no desire for U.S. troops to enter the conflict, Biden has maintained that he sees the Russian effort to grab territory as an affront to international norms and has vowed to help Kyiv win, sending artillery, tanks and drones and recently agreeing to allow allies to train Ukrainian military on American F-16 jets.
Before Monday’s ceremony at the Arlington, Virginia, cemetery, the Bidens hosted a breakfast at the White House for members of veterans organizations, military service and military family organizations, surviving families of fallen U.S. troops, senior Department of Defense officials and other administration officials.
The president and the first lady were scheduled to return their home near Wilmington, Delaware, later Monday to spend the rest of the federal holiday.
By AAMER MADHANI and REBECCA SANTANA Associated Press