Jon Stewart shames lawmakers for not showing up to 9/11 victims fund hearing

June 11, 2019
In The News

WASHINGTON – ​Former “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart shamed ​members of a House panel Tuesday when only five lawmakers were seated in the rostrum to hear survivors of the Sept. 11 terror attacks testify about the need to reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.

“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 began. “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,” he continued. “Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this 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.”

In front of Stewart was ​House ​Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler​ of New York, along with ​Democratic Reps. Steve Cohen​ of Tennessee​, Mary Gay Scanlon​ of Pennsylvania​, Jamie Raskin ​of Maryland ​and the top Republican in the ​Judiciary subcommittee, Rep. Mike Johnson ​of Louisiana.

​Democratic ​Rep. Max Rose ​of Staten Island was seated near the witnesses testifying.

Democrat Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who testified at the hearing alongside Republican Rep. Peter King, sat on the other side of the room.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, another New York Republican, sat through most of the hearing, but missed Stewart’s opening digs.

 

The subcommittee has 14 members.

The subcommittee members who were MIA when Stewart and Alvarez spoke include Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell of California, Madeleine Dean of Pennyslvania, and Sylvia Garcia, Veronica Escobar and Sheila Jackson, all of Texas. Swalwell is running for president.

The Republican members who were missing during their testimony were Louie Gohmert of Texas, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania, Ben Cline of Virginia and Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota.

Stewart’s rant came on the heels of testimony from Luis Alvarez, a retired ​NYPD ​detective who had responded to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Less than 24 hours from now, I will be starting my 69th round of chemotherapy,” said Alvarez, who has liver cancer. “Yeah, you heard that correct.”

“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 because of when they get sick, they die,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez received a standing ovation after concluding his opening remarks.

 

The House bill in question permanently reauthorizes the Victim Compensation Fund through October 1, 2090, which should account for the lifespan of all the children and adults sickened by the terror attacks.

The VCF is already experiencing a funding shortfall and announced in February that due to that survivors would receive cuts of 50 percent for pending claims and 70 percent for future claims.

The full House Judiciary committee will vote on the bill Wednesday.

A full House vote isn’t expected until the legislation is scored by the Congressional Budget Office, Nadler told The Post.

Once through the House, the bill’s Senate companion – sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and a bipartisan group of 38 senators – will have to pass.

 

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether McConnell would support the bill coming to the floor.

The White House also didn’t respond to comment when asked if President Trump would sign it.

The original James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was signed into law in 2011, but limited the filing time for claims to five years.

That was expanded by another five years in October 2016, which is why the fund needs to be reauthorized now.

Additionally a spike in claims has led to a funding shortfall.

 

“We don’t want to be here. Lu doesn’t want to be here, none of these people don’t want to be here,” Stewart told the handful of lawmakers. “And they’re not here for themselves. They are here to continue fighting for what’s right.”

“Lu’s going to go back for his 69th chemo, the great Ray Pfeifer would come down here, his body riddled with cancer and pain, where he couldn’t walk. And the disrespect shown to him and the other lobbyists on this bill is utterly unacceptable,” Stewart added.

Pfeifer was a 9/11 firefighter who died in 2017 of a 9/11​-​related cancer.

After the hearing, Stewart – a vocal liberal – told The Post that he would meet with President Trump if it meant a permanent authorization.

“Of course I’d be willing to,” Stewart said. “The question is, why do we have to? Why do we have to drag Lu Alvarez down here after 69 chemotherapies to make a case that is obvious? There’s no reason for it.”