Jon Stewart blasts Congress for ‘callous indifference’ to 9/11 first responders

Stewart fights for first responders
Jon Stewart speaking on behalf of 9/11's first responders. Screen capture by CNN via YouTube video

His voice crackling with anger as he testified in front of the half-empty House Judiciary Committee, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart tore into Congress for not doing more to protect 9/11 survivors and the first responders who are still suffering today.

He called on Congress to extend the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund which is currently set to expire in 2020, Mediaite reports. The fund was created by Congress to compensate victims who were injured or sickened in the terrorist attacks or in the response aftermath, The Washington Post reports.

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And he blasted Congress for its low attendance.

“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,” Stewart told the committee. “Behind me, a room full of 9/11 first responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress.”

Fighting pain and illness caused by the catastrophe, police officers and others attended the hearing, Stewart noted, castigating committee members who failed to show up. The first responders attended the hearing in the hopes of advocating for the financial support they are due, he added.

But a half-empty Congress is what they got, and Stewart, fighting tears, was visibly angry.

“Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one,” he said. “Shameful! It’s an embarrassment to the country and it’s a 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.”

Stewart had sharp words for lawmakers who acted in apparent hypocrisy, for making campaign promises they never kept, and for publicly thanking them and then privately ignoring them.

“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,” Stewart said, deferring to the crowd of first responders behind him. “Well, here they are.”

Up until recently, The Victim Compensation Fund was supposed to let people file claims until December 18, 2020, but that changed in February when the fund’s leadership said rewards would be reduced due to “funding insufficiency.”

Stewart began advocating for the fund in 2010, criticizing Congress members who opposed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides assistance and healthcare to first responders.

Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Secretary at the time, credited Stewart’s advocacy, saying it may have created a “breakthrough” on the issue.

And while many who testify before Congress resort to written statements, Stewart didn’t use a script. His voice rising and falling, he said Congress’s “disrespect” was “utterly unacceptable.” He shredded Congress’s “callous indifference” and “rank hypocrisy.”

“Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: Time,” Stewart said. “They responded in five seconds, they did their jobs … Eighteen years later, you do yours.”

Here’s the memorable exchange below.

Screen capture courtesy of the video above