Washington Roundup: Biden at D-Day; Ukraine gets apology; Tiananmen Square massacre remembered

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U.S. President Joe Biden stands with Scott Desjardins, superintendent of Normandy American Cemetery and Pointe du Hoc, during a visit to the World War II Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument following the 80th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings, in Cricqueville-en-Bessin, Normandy, France, June 7, 2024. (OSV News photo/Elizabeth Frantz, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — President Joe Biden traveled to France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day. While there he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and apologized for the delay in delivering aid to that nation amid Russia’s ongoing invasion.

Meanwhile in Washington, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom elected as its new chair Stephen Schneck, Catholic American political scientist and founder of The Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research, while lawmakers marked the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.

Biden marks D-Day anniversary in event honoring veterans

Heads of state including Biden, Zelenskyy, and French President Emmanuel Macron participated in a June 6 ceremony honoring about 160,000 troops from the United States, Canada, Great Britain and other allies, who arrived that very day in 1944 on the shores of Normandy by air, land and sea to liberate Nazi-occupied France, the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany’s dominion over Europe.

A small number of surviving centenarian veterans of that battle were honored by thousands who had gathered for the occasion at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the World War II Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument following the 80th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings in Cricqueville-en-Bessin, Normandy, France, June 7, 2024. (OSV News photo/Elizabeth Frantz, Reuters)

In remarks at the ceremony, Biden noted those Americans buried in the nearby cemetery “were different races, different faiths, but all Americans. All served with honor when America and the world needed them most.”

“Millions back home did their part as well,” he said. “From coast to coast, Americans found countless ways to pitch in. They understood our democracy is only as strong as all of us make it, together.”

Biden also drew parallels to Russia’s ongoing and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

“We know the dark forces that these heroes fought against 80 years ago,” Biden said. “They never fade. Aggression and greed, the desire to dominate and control, to change borders by force — these are perennial. And the struggle between a dictatorship and freedom is unending.

“Here, in Europe, we see one stark example. Ukraine has been invaded by a tyrant bent on domination.”

Biden said the “autocrats of the world” are observing that conflict and Russian President Vladimir Putin must not prevail.

“To surrender to bullies, to bow down to dictators is simply unthinkable,” he said. “Were we to do that, it means we’d be forgetting what happened here on these hallowed beaches.”

Democracy “is never guaranteed,” Biden added.

“Every generation must preserve it, defend it and fight for it,” he said. “That’s the test of the ages. In memory of those who fought here, died here, literally saved the world here, let us be worthy of their sacrifice.”

Biden apologizes to Zelenskyy over aid delay

Back in April — after months of delay — a large bipartisan coalition in the U.S. House approved a $95 billion package providing aid for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific region. The move came after the objections of some hard-right lawmakers stalled the process.

Supporters of providing aid to Ukraine argued it is in the interest of U.S. national security to help that country fend off Russia’s invasion and to prevent the risk of emboldening Putin. Opponents, including the hard-right lawmakers who stalled the deal, argued those funds should instead be spent on domestic pursuits.

U.S. President Joe Biden shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Paris, France, June 7, 2024. (OSV News photo/Elizabeth Frantz, Reuters)

Biden, who had repeatedly called upon Congress over six months to pass the aid, met in Paris with Zelenskyy while they were both in France, apologizing to him for the delay.

“I apologize for those weeks of not knowing … in terms of funding,” Biden said, adding, “We’re still in completely, thoroughly.”

Zelenskyy thanked Biden, and both and both called for an alliance in support of Ukraine reminiscent of the allies of World War II.

“It’s very important that in this unity, the United States of America, all American people stay with Ukraine like it was during World War II,” Zelenskyy said. “How the United States helped to save human lives, to save Europe. And we count on your continuing support in standing with us shoulder to shoulder.”

In a now-viral moment at a ceremony honoring those who liberated France, one veteran, Melvin Hurwitz, embraced the Ukrainian president and called him a hero.

“You’re the savior of the people,” Hurwitz, 99, of Frederick, Maryland, told Zelenskyy. “You bring tears to my eyes.”

“No, no, no, you saved Europe,” Zelenskyy responded.

Hurwitz told Zelenskyy he prays for him, to which Zelenskyy thanked him, appearing moved.

USCIRF elects Catholic as chair

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a U.S. government body monitoring international religious freedom, on June 3 said it unanimously elected Stephen Schneck as its chair for 2024-2025. USCIRF Commissioners also unanimously elected Eric Ueland, who is also Catholic, as its vice chair.

“I am honored to serve as Chair of the Commission,” Schneck, who previous to this position had served as executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, said in a statement. “I will dedicate the next year to leading this team with Vice Chair Ueland to further promote freedom of religion or belief abroad. Vice Chair Ueland has a breadth of experience in the Legislative and Executive branches and is an invaluable member of USCIRF.”

Stephen Schneck is seen in this 2017 file photo. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has elected Stephen Schneck as its new chair. (OSV News photo/Tyler Orsburn, CNS archive)

Schneck, who also currently serves on the governing boards of Catholic Climate Covenant, which advocates for environmental justice and care for creation, and of Catholic Mobilizing Network, a Catholic organization working to end the death penalty, said that protecting religious freedom around the globe “is not a Republican or Democratic issue, but rather a bipartisan concern where we must all work together.”

Ueland is a member of the board of advisors at the Center for Constitutional Liberty at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. In 2020-21, he served as the acting undersecretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights at the State Department.

“Together with Chair Schneck and my colleagues, I am eager to continue our shared efforts to call out foreign governments perpetrating or tolerating severe violations of the fundamental, universal right to religious freedom,” Ueland said in a statement.

USCIRF was created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, and monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. USCIRF makes policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state, and Congress about how to respond to threats to such liberties.

Lawmakers mark 35th anniversary of Tiananmen Square massacre

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle marked the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre — during which the Chinese Communist Party used tanks and other deadly force against peaceful student protesters in 1989 — including Catholic lawmakers.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China said in a statement, “Thirty-five years ago the world watched as millions of Chinese gathered to peacefully demand political reform and democratic openness.”

“The hopes and dreams of those heady days ended with needless violence–tears, bloodshed, arrest, and exile. Mothers lost sons, fathers lost daughters, and China lost an idealistic generation to the tanks that rolled down Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989,” he said. “On this solemn occasion, we reflect on the bravery and sacrifice of those who stood for democracy and freedom on that fateful day. We grieve with those who still don’t know what happened to their lost loved ones. And we demand that the Chinese Communist government make a full, public accounting of those killed or missing and end its Orwellian efforts to censor what is a dark chapter of Chinese history.”

Estimates of the death toll at Tiananmen Square have varied from several hundred to several thousands killed, with thousands more wounded in the brutal crackdown.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaker emerita and a staunch critic of China’s communist government, said in a statement that “Thirty-five years ago in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the world witnessed one of the most courageous acts of dissent — and one of the most violent and brutal crackdowns — in modern history.”

“The image of a lone man staring down a line of tanks is forever seared into our collective memory. The man before the tank remains an enduring reminder of the heroism of the ordinary Chinese citizens who put their lives on the line for dignity and liberty.”

Both Smith and Pelosi condemned ongoing human rights abuses in China, including what lawmakers have called a genocide against Uyghur Muslims.

“Tragically, more than three decades later, the Chinese Communist Party’s regime of repression and persecution has only intensified,” Pelosi said. “We are seeing an ongoing genocide of the Uyghurs, the assault of religion, language and culture in Tibet, the baseless prosecution of pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong under the new so-called national security law and many more abuses nationwide. At the same time, we see their threats to global security in the South China Sea and increased aggression against Taiwan.”

Smith said that “We must communicate to the Chinese people that their struggle and pain has not and will not be forgotten. And that we believe that the Chinese Communist Party will eventually be consigned to the ash-heap of history.”

“To do anything less dishonors the spirit of Tiananmen and those who stood so bravely and resolutely for freedom,” he said.

Pelosi added in her statement, “On a bipartisan and bicameral basis, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have strongly condemned these shameful human rights abuses and threats to security, and proudly stand with the brave truth-tellers and pro-democracy demonstrators.”

“Beijing’s tanks and troops may have crushed the demonstration 35 years ago, but they could not silence the demands for dignity and democracy that have echoed ever since,” she said. “Today, and every day, we pay tribute to the heroes of the Tiananmen Square protest — and we will never allow their dreams of a fairer, freer China to be forgotten.”

Kate Scanlon

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.