House panel unanimously passes 9/11 victims fund bill after Jon Stewart shaming
WASHINGTON — The bill that permanently authorizes the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund passed out of the House Judiciary Committee unanimously on Wednesday.
The move comes a day after former “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart shamed members of a Judiciary subcommittee, as only Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and four subcommittee members were present for testimony from 9/11 first responders.
They included Luis Alvarez, a retired NYPD detective who was about to begin his 69th round of chemotherapy for liver cancer. There are 14 members of the subcommittee.
“It’s an embarrassment to the country and a stain on the 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,” Stewart said Tuesday.
At the full committee markup Wednesday, a handful of lawmakers were absent, but Nadler dismissed calls to make the committee vote a roll call vote.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), will likely need to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office before it can get a full vote in the House, but is expected to pass, as the legislation has 313 bipartisan co-sponsors.
“I personally am calling for a vote before July Fourth,” Maloney said. Maloney said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has “committed to passing the bill,” but hasn’t set a deadline.
Maloney has been wearing an official FDNY jacket to raise awareness for the issue. “I said I couldn’t take it off until we pass it, it’s getting very hot now and I’m going to be very pleased I’ll be able to take it off. I think we’ll have a bill signing,” she predicted Wednesday.
The Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, also has bipartisan support, but it’s still short of a veto-proof majority.
Early Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he “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,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday and pushed McConnell to move.
“Once this bill passes the House, there will be only one person who stands between the brave first responders now suffering from cancer and illness and the money they need to save or extend their lives, and that one person is Leader McConnell,” Schumer said. “So I say to Leader McConnell: this is not politics. This is not a game. These are our heroes, American heroes, who are suffering and need your help … I am imploring, pleading, even begging to Leader McConnell, to put the bill on the floor immediately after it passes the House.”
Schumer’s spokesman Angelo Roefaro said that the Senate Democratic leader had talked to Stewart Wednesday morning and informed him of what he was going to say.
The White House has yet to respond to requests for comment on whether President Trump supports the legislation.
But a source close to Schumer said the senator believes Trump is committed to signing the bill.
The bill keeps the current fund going until Oct. 1, 2090. Previous bills only allowed victims of the terror attacks — including the first responders — to file claims in five-year periods. The new bill also doesn’t cap the funds allocated to assist the victims.
“That five-year reauthorization was not nearly enough. People are still getting sick as diseases like cancer emerge after long latency periods. Those already sick are getting sicker, and tragically, many are dying and have died,” Nadler said in his opening statement Wednesday.
Many 9/11 responders and people who worked or resided near Ground Zero became ill after breathing toxic fumes spewing from the site.
First responders, a 9/11 widow and a woman who was in high school near the twin towers on Sept. 11 appeared before Tuesday’s panel, alongside Stewart, who tore into no-show lawmakers.
“As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process of 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.”
“Sick and dying they brought themselves down here to speak to no one,” Stewart continued, calling the episode “shameful.”
Ten members of the subcommittee were not present during Stewart’s rant.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) caught the beginning of hearing, but had a meeting with the Ohio governor, his spokesman said.
Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) “was there for 95 percent of it,” though happened not to catch Alvarez and Stewart’s opening remarks.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) also missed that portion, but came into the hearing several minutes later and spoke.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) missed the most dramatic moment because she had to check in with the Financial Services committee. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) “stepped out to take a meeting with constituents, and then had a conference call with both U.S. senators on a North Dakota land issue,” a spokesman said of his absence.
Spokespeople for Reps. Jackson Lee, Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), Ben Cline (R-Va.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Veronica Escobar (R-Texas) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) didn’t respond to requests for comment about the lawmakers’ whereabouts
Swalwell’s absence was particularly notable – and he skipped Wednesday’s voice vote – as he’s one of the 2020 Democrats running for the White House.