Jon Stewart testified on Capitol Hill today in support of a bill pending before Congress that would ensure that a victim’s compensation fund set up for 9/11 first responders would be able to pay benefits for the next 70 years and, after seeing the sparse attendance from lawmakers, forcefully admonished them – with tears in his eyes – to do their jobs.
There was a time when our elected officials would break their neck to be seen on television doing something to help those who ran into burning, unstable buildings, who searched for days to rescue every person they possibly could from the rubble. Congress creatures would be at those hearings with bells on and a flag pin on their lapel. Today, those appearances are saved for any type of hearing that can damage President Trump.
Jon Stewart: "What an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting healthcare and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to. Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders—and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress." https://t.co/NkJuIoh4fP pic.twitter.com/EcDndmzU2C
— ABC News (@ABC) June 11, 2019
Stewart has worked with 9/11 first responders organizations for years, and was well aware that some of those first responders attending the hearing had traveled to Washington on their own dime and while suffering great physical pain. He didn’t waste the opportunity to remind Congress of this fact.
As I sit here today I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting healthcare and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to. Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak, and no one – shameful. It’s embarrassing to this country and it is a stain on this institution, and you should be ashamed of yourselves for those who aren’t here, but you won’t be, because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.
We don’t want to be here. Lou doesn’t want to be here. None of these people want to be here. And they are. And they’re not here for themselves. They’re here to continue fighting for what’s right. Lou’s gonna go back for his 69th chemo…the disrespect shown to him and the other lobbyists on this bill is utterly unacceptable.
Wrapping up his testimony, Stewart tearfully recounted all of the BS bureaucracy the first responders have had to go through while battling physical and mental health issues.
"Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time."
Jon Stewart receives a standing ovation from 9/11 first responders after slamming lawmakers for failing to fund programs providing healthcare to the first responders https://t.co/vSFOq11Wr5 pic.twitter.com/BrAC3UfYMD
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) June 11, 2019
The breathing problems started almost immediately, and they were told they weren’t sick; they were crazy.
And then as the illnesses got worse and things became more apparent, okay, you’re sick, but it’s not from the pile.
And then, when the science became irrefutable, okay, it’s the pile, but this is a New York issue. I don’t know if we have the money.
And I’m sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic, but I am angry, and you should be too, and they’re all angry as well, and they have every justification to be that way. There is not a person here, there is not an empty chair on that stage that didn’t tweet out, “Never forget the heroes of 9/11. Never forget their bravery. Never forget what they did, what they gave to this country.” Well, here they are.
And where are they?
And it would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy were benign, but it’s not. Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. That’s the one thing they’re running out of.
This should be flipped. This hearing should be flipped. These men and women should be up on that stage and Congress should be down here answering their questions as to why this is so damn hard and takes so damn long. And why, no matter what they get, something’s always pulled back and they’ve gotta come back.
Mr. Johnson, you made a point earlier, and it was one that we have heard over and over again in these halls, and I couldn’t help but to answer to it, which is…you know, we have a lot of stuff here to do, and we’ve got to make sure there’s money for a variety of disasters and hurricanes and tornadoes. But this wasn’t a hurricane, and this wasn’t a tornado, and, by the way, that’s your job anyway…9/11 first responders shouldn’t have to decide whether to live or to have a place to live.
The idea that you can only give them five more years of VCF because you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen five years from now, well, I can tell you, I’m pretty sure what’s gonna happen five years from now. More of these men and women are going to get sick, and they’re going to die.
And I’m awfully tired of hearing that it’s a 9/11, New York issue. Al-Qaeda didn’t shout, “Death to Tribeca.” They attacked America. And these men and women and their response to it is what brought our country back. It’s what gave a reeling nation a solid foundation to stand back upon, to remind us of why this country is great, of why this country is worth fighting for, and you are ignoring them.
And you can end it tomorrow. Why this bill isn’t unanimous consent and isn’t a standalone issue is beyond my comprehension.
They responded in five seconds. They did their job with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. Eighteen years later, do yours!
Thank *you,* Jon Stewart.
(There’s a chance those words won’t be written on these pages again, but one must give credit where credit is due.)