KITTERY, Maine — Vice President Joe Biden’s rising voice echoed against the steel machinery of a naval welding facility Wednesday as he pledged to follow “barbaric” Islamic militants “to the gates of hell” in response to their recent slayings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
Biden addressed the slayings immediately upon taking the stage in front of hundreds of workers in Building 92 at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which Biden called a “centerpiece of our country’s defense for more than 200 years” and is just a few highway miles from Foley’s native Rochester.
He vowed that the country would pursue Foley and Sotloff’s killers without rest.
“We will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice,” Biden boomed. “Because hell is where they will reside. ”
The militant group also known as ISIS, or ISIL, released a video Tuesday that purported to show the beheading of Sotloff, a Florida native who attended Kimball Union Academy in Plainfield. Sotloff, 31, was kidnapped in Syria in 2013. Foley was kidnapped in Syria two years ago.
The video released Tuesday was eerily similar to the video of Foley’s beheading, released Aug. 19. More than 1,000 people attended a memorial Mass for Foley, 40, in Rochester last month.
Biden praised the courage of both journalists Wednesday, referring to Foley as “Jim” and saying Sotloff “put his life on the line, as a journalist, to tell the story of the Syrian people.”
Biden said America would not be intimidated by the “barbaric acts of ISIL.”
“They somehow think it’s going to lessen U.S. resolve,” the vice president said. “If they think the American people are going to be intimidated, they don’t know us very well.”
He said America “came back from 9/11” and “came back Boston Strong,” referring to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, and would show a similar resilience against the growing Islamic State threat.
Biden’s emphatic remarks about safeguarding America’s dominant military role in the world appeared to resonate at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where the crowd gave powerful applause following Biden’s “hell is where they will reside” statement.
The vice president touted the shipyard’s support of the Navy’s “72-strong submarine force” and said this year would see the 4,000th strategic submarine patrol since 1960. He said the shipyard’s work to repair and modernize nuclear submarines is “an absolutely vital arm of our nuclear triad.”
“You’re the reason America is the most dominant force in the world,” Biden told the crowd of workers, many of whom were fresh off the job and wearing reflective vests, military uniforms or construction gear. “You keep America safe. It’s as simple as that.”
A shipyard electrical engineer in the crowd said welding and component fitting work usually take place in the massive shop building, which was overflowing with a crowd of shipyard workers, camera crews and security personnel Wednesday.
Biden briefly toured a submarine maintenance training facility before his remarks, and repeatedly touted the shipyard’s highly skilled workforce.
“Simple fact — you are simply the best in the world. In the world,” Biden said.
At one point early in his remarks, Biden grinned while disparaging the notion that the federal government would even consider closing or reducing staff at the shipyard in Kittery, Maine.
He said the shipyard generates $400 million in payroll, with salaries averaging $68,000 a year. Those kinds of wages and skilled jobs are needed across the country, he said.
“The middle class got clobbered, and we’ve got to do something about it,” he said.
Biden said apprenticeship and training programs at the facility have created a model for private enterprises and for America’s path to revitalizing the middle class. He said that while the national GDP has seen significant growth since 2001, middle class wages rose only 14 cents in that time.
“That’s no way to grow America, man,” Biden said. “That’s no way to restore the middle class.”
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., and U.S. Reps. Michael Michaud and Chellie Pingree, both Democrats from Maine, were on hand Wednesday and spoke before Biden, praising the shipyard’s role in the regional economy and in national security.
The Republican National Committee said the list of attendees was blatantly partisan.
“By only inviting national Democrats to today’s event, the vice president has injected politics where national security and economic issues should have instead been the focus,” said a statement from RNC spokesman Michael Short. “It’s clear the vice president is more interested in buoying his presidential ambitions and the reelection prospects of vulnerable Democrats, which are all being dragged down by their lockstep support for President Obama and his unpopular agenda.”
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard employs about 4,700 civilian workers.