Former late night host and 9/11 first responders advocate Jon Stewart choked with emotion Tuesday, while shaming Congressional members who have shown a distinct lack of health care funding for responders to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He teared up because many lawmakers on the panel did not show up for the hearing, leaving the committee room mostly empty.
“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 during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorizing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress.”
He condemned those absent members of Congress for disrespecting the personal sacrifice that former 9/11 first responders made to appear before them.
“Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one,” he said, tearing up. “Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country and it is as stain on this institution. And you should be ashamed of yourselves for those that aren’t here. But you won’t be, because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”
The fund is set to expire in 2020 and the special master who runs it, previously announced plans to cut payouts by between 50% and 70% to ensure all are paid. The fund paid out $7 billion in damages when it originally operated from 2001 to 2003, was reopened in 2011 and extended for another five years in 2015.
New York Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney introduced legislation in February to fund the program permanently.
Stewart, on Tuesday, addressed some lawmakers’ apparent hesitancy to extend the bill.
During the hearing, he recalled how he used to get angry at the injustices the first responders faced, such as having “another business card thrown our way, as a way of shooing us away like children trick-or-treating, rather than the heroes that they are and will always be.”
Late New York City Firefighter Ray Pfeifer, who died from terminal cancer in 2017, as a result of his rescue mission at Ground Zero, “Would say, ‘Calm down, Jon, calm down, I’ve got all the cards I need.’ And he would tap his pocket,” Stewart said, becoming visibly emotional and pausing to compose himself, “Where he kept the prayer cards of 343 firefighters.”
Stewart accused members of Congress of betraying first responders by failing to back up their public statements with real legislative action.
“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’,” Stewart said. “Well, here they are! And where are they?”
The man who used to provide laughter to Americans throughout his career was brought to tears by a Congress that shows a lack of any kind of empathy for the first responders.
If they are to gain any respect from the Americans of this nation, they should absolutely fund the programs for the first responders who didn’t hesitate to charge into the burning buildings to try to rescue the victims who were still alive.