Last week, Jon Stewart testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee on behalf of 9/11 survivors and first responders, who are waiting for lawmakers to extend September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. For nearly 10 minutes, the former Daily Show host laid into Congress, only a few members of which attended the hearing. “It would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy were benign, but it’s not,” Stewart said. “Your indifference costs these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of.”
On Sunday, Stewart, who has long been advocating for 9/11 survivors and first responders, took his case to Fox News. “It’s a very emotional issue,” he told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. “I think this community is at the end of their rope. I think there is a feeling of disbelief. They can’t understand why they have to continually have to saddle up and ride down to Washington and make these appeals for something that should be simple, but somehow through politics is made agonizingly difficult.”
The 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, which is set to expire at the end of 2020, offers compensation to 9/11 survivors and first responders who filed claims relating to various health problems they have experienced as a result of the attacks. Stewart wants the fund to be extended through 2090 so that no one affected by 9/11 will “have to come down, hat in hand, [and] beg for this kind of thing again.”
The House Judiciary Committee later in the week voted to extend the fund through 2090. The full House of Representative is expected to do the same, but there’s fear the fund could get held up in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could hold it hostage as a bargaining chip as he tries to get other bills passed. When McConnell was asked about the fund following Stewart’s testimony last Tuesday, he reacted like it was a wedding he forgot was coming up at the end of the month.
“Gosh, I hadn’t looked at that lately,” he said Wednesday when asked if he supports the fund. “I’ll have to. We’ve always dealt with that in the past in a compassionate way, and I assume we will again.” He did not say whether he supports the fund’s reauthorization.
Question: "The 9/11 victims compensation fund is running out. Do you support reauthorizing the fund?"
Sen. Mitch McConnell: "Gosh, I hadn't looked at that lately. I'll have to. We've always dealt with that in the past in a compassionate way, and I assume we will again." pic.twitter.com/nigdhH4rNS
— The Hill (@thehill) June 12, 2019
On Sunday, Stewart teed off on McConnell’s indifference, which isn’t limited to the remarks the Republican leader made last week. “I want to make it clear,” Stewart said. “This has never been dealt with compassionately by Senator McConnell. He has always held out until very last minute, and only then under intense lobbying and public shaming has he even deigned to move on it. … In 2010, he used it to make sure the Bush tax cuts would be permanent. In 2015, he took it out of the transportation bill because he wanted to extract some promises on oil imports. This bill right now, in 2019 — he’s been aware of this. We were told in August that this fund was running out of money and that people were going to have their awards slashed by … up to 70 percent.”
McConnell isn’t the only Republican who has failed to support the bill. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has also drawn criticism for his inaction, and other GOP senators have argued that the fund should not be open-ended, and even that it should be left up to the states affected.
Stewart disagrees. “The idea that this is a state issue…” he began. “It would be like after Pearl Harbor, saying that we’re not going to do anything for people in Pearl Harbor because that’s a Hawaii issue. This was an attack on America. They didn’t shout, ‘Death to Tribeca.’ To try to push this off as a New York issue — I think they do that because they believe New York is reliably liberal and Democratic and it’s not as important to them.”
He continued: “Not all Republicans oppose this, but everyone who has opposed it is a Republican. It’s unacceptable. They’ve done it now for years. Senator McConnell. Lindsey Graham is the head of Judiciary. He’s the one who’s going to be the one negotiating whether it’s five or 10 years. We cannot make these individuals continue to live in the agonizing uncertainty of not knowing that these programs will be extended and that they will be able to move on with their lives.”