Former host of The Daily Show host Jon Stewart made a speech to Congress on Tuesday where he condemned lawmakers for not passing a bill that would provide funding to 9/11 first responders then refusing to show up for the hearing.
“As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to,” Stewart said. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders; and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress.”
Stewart repeatedly lambasted lawmakers who weren’t present at the meeting. “You should be ashamed of yourselves, for those that aren’t here,” he said. “But you won’t be, because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.” He appeared to be overcome with emotion as he described the actions of the FDNY on 9/11. “The official FDNY response time to 9/11 was 5 seconds,” he explained, “that’s how long it took for FDNY for NYPD for Port Authority for EMS to respond to an urgent need from the public.” He added later, “I’m sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic, but I’m angry.”
The former host of The Daily Show described how the Federal government repeatedly tried to avoid paying for the healthcare costs of the first responders on 9/11. “your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of.”
Jon made the speech during a hearing for the Never Forget the Heroes Act, which would authorize funding for the victim fund through the year 2090. The bill was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. in October 2018, then reintroduced earlier this year where it has since stalled in the house.
Stewart was joined by 9/11 first responders including Luis Alvarez, a retired NYPD detective and first responder who has been suffering from complications since the events of September 11th. “Less than 24 hours from now, I will be serving my 69th round of chemotherapy,” Alvarez said. “I should not be here with you, but you made me come. You made me come because I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11, like me, are valued less than anyone else.”
Rupa Bhattacharyya, the victim fund’s administrator, announced in February that there was insufficient funding to “pay all current and projected claims at the same levels as under current policies and procedures” Without the approval of additional funding, future claims will have to be paid out much lower than their prior value.
Despite Stewart’s fiery condemnation of the committee for not showing up, Rep. Steve Cohen responded that the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties and not the full committee. “My subcommittee, every single member on my side, which is eight of us, have been here today,” Cohen said, “All these empty chairs, that’s because it’s for the full committee. It’s not because of disrespect or lack of attention to you,”
The lack of attendance could also be attributed to the hearing being held only hours before the House was set to vote on a civil contempt resolution involving Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn.
Fighting for First Responders
Jon Stewart is a native New Yorker and has long been an advocate of 9/11 first responders. Right after the tragedy in 2001, Jon delivered a moving monologue on The Daily Show that gained national attention. Stewart delivered a passionate speech that mirrored his comments on the 9/11 first responders bill.
He also lobbied Congress in 2015, demanding that lawmakers pass James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, a bill that would help aid first responders who were sickened as a result of the attack. Jon literally walked the halls of Congress to drum up support for the act.
Like today’s hearing, Jon was accompanied by 9/11 first responders. “I’m embarrassed for our country, for New York, that you after serving so selflessly have to come down here and convince people to do what’s right,” he said to the group of firefighters and police officers who are still suffering from health problems due to the 9/11 attacks. His comments in 2015 were similar to his speech in 2019. “We are going in offices where they tweet on 9/11: ‘never forget.’ Well, guess who they forgot? I mean the disconnect is jarring and shocking and you can sit in their office and they will say to you ‘oh yea no, we absolutely support our first responders.’ But you’re not,” Stewart told NBC News.