A furious Jon Stewart tells Congress to support 9/11 first responders: ‘It’s an embarrassment’ – AOL

WASHINGTON Jon Stewart, the former host of “The Daily Show,” delivered powerful testimony Tuesday on Capitol Hill, condemning legislators who failed to show up to a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorizing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which is set to be drastically reduced, even as the number of claims rapidly grows.

“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,” said Stewart, who has long made compensatory funding for 9/11 responders and victims’ families a personal cause. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress.”

“I’m sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic,” Stewart added. “I am angry, and you should be too.”

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties has 14 members, but fewer than half were present in the room at various points during the emotional hearing.

Among the absent for the majority of the hearing was Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who was once an assiduous interrogator of Hillary Clinton and her supposed involvement in the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, which left four dead.

“The bill is expected to pass with strong bipartisan support. The 9/11 first responders are heroes to whom our entire nation is indebted. Rep. Jordan did attend the hearing today and was disappointed he could not stay, in person, for the entire time,” Jordan spokesman Ian Fury told Yahoo News when asked why the congressman had not been in attendance for the bulk of the hearing.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif, who has been similarly aggressive in investigating President Trump’s potential ties to Russia, as well as alleged obstruction of justice related to those ties, was also a no-show. But Swalwell, who is running for president, is a cosponsor of H.R.1327, the Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.

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Jon Stewart testifies during 9/11 victims’ fund hearing

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WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart signs a name placard for Retired New York Police Department detective and 9/11 responder Luis Alvarez following a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart is sworn in before testifying during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 11: FealGood Foundation co-founder John Feal hugs former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES – JUNE 11: Entertainer and activist Jon Stewart wipes away tears after being presented with the jacket of first responder Ray Pfeifer before testifying at a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee as it considers permanent authorization of the Victim Compensation Fund in Washington on Tuesday June 11, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

UNITED STATES – JUNE 11: Entertainer and activist Jon Stewart holds up the jacket of first responder Ray Pfeifer before testifying at a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee as it considers permanent authorization of the Victim Compensation Fund in Washington on Tuesday June 11, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

UNITED STATES – JUNE 11: Entertainer and activist Jon Stewart holds up the jacket of first responder Ray Pfeifer before testifying at a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee as it considers permanent authorization of the Victim Compensation Fund in Washington on Tuesday June 11, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart is pictured before testifying during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart and FealGood Foundation co-founder John Feal look on during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart arrives before testifying during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart arrives before testifying during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart arrives before testifying during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart speaks to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) following a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

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What those not in attendance missed was powerful testimony from first responders, including a former New York Police Department bomb squad detective who was about to undergo his 69th round of chemotherapy.

That detective, Luis Alvarez, spoke in a halting, raspy voice. Sitting in his bomb squad jacket next to Stewart, he looked as if he had been reduced in stature by the colorectal cancer that has ravaged his body for the last two years. Though it is impossible to directly link the incidence of cancer to working at Ground Zero, the frequency and types of cancer afflicting first responders strongly suggest a correlation.

“I have been to many places in this world,” Alvarez said, “and done many things. But I can tell you that I did not want to be anywhere else but Ground Zero when I was there.”

Stewart, the final witness, spoke after Alvarez, using his time to castigate Congress for its inaction. Only about $2 billion remains in the VCF, and the fund’s general master, Rupa Bhattacharyya — who was also a witness on Tuesday morning — has said that it simply does not have the money to address 19,000 outstanding claims.

“Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak — to no one,” Stewart continued. “Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country and it is a stain on this institution.”

Stewart was instrumental in the passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010. The biggest champion of the bill on Capitol Hill was Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York’s junior senator and a contender for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

Some of the empty chairs — as both Democrats and Republicans pointed out — reflected the subcommittee’s relatively small size, relative to that of the full committee. Even so, those empty chairs were a potent symbol of what Stewart saw as indifference on the part of Congress, whose members reliably tweet out “Never Forget” messages on Sept. 11, but do little to enshrine that remembrance into extended medical coverage for first responders or support for families of the fallen.

Legislation proposed by Democratic New York legislators Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand would fund the VCF until 2090. But critics of that legislation, the Never Forget the Heroes Act, worry that it is irresponsible to promise payment so many years into the future. And while the bill is all but certain to pass the House, it will just as certainly meet resistance in the Republican-controlled Senate.

18 PHOTOS

New York City’s skyline every year on 9/11

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Manhattan Skyline with Twin Towers 2000 Manhattan, New York, New York, USA

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 Smoke pours from the twin towers of the World Trade Center after they were hit by two hijacked airliners in a terrorist attack September 11, 2001 in New York City. (Photo by Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

NEW YORK CITY – SEPTEMBER 11: Mourners gather at Ground Zero during the World Trade Center memorial service September 11, 2002 in New York City. Mourners will attend memorial services throughout the day for the one year anniversary of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. (Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora via Getty Images)

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 11: Two columns of light symbolize the fallen World Trade Center towers in a tribute in light September 11, 2003 in New York City. The light tribute that debuted last year returned to mark the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 11: A view of the Manhattan skyline showing the September 11 twin tower light tribute prior to the women’s final during the US Open September 11, 2004 at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The annual Tribute in Light shines on the skyline as a memorial to the fallen twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York September 11, 2005. Each year to mark the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center two beams of light are illuminated in the sky from dusk to dawn. The U.S. marks the fourth anniversary of the September 11th attacks that claimed some 3,000 lives.

New York, UNITED STATES: Oberservers near Ground Zero listen as the names of victims are read over a loud speaker 11 September, 2006 in New York. Today marks the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. The United States Monday mourned nearly 3,000 people killed in the September 11 attacks five years ago, as fresh warnings from Al-Qaeda bolstered global fears that the US ‘war on terror’ has left the world a more dangerous place. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 11: Families and friends of victims of the 911attacks surround a reflecting pool during a ceremony at the World Trade Center site September 11, 2007 in New York City. Today marks the sixth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, when terrorists hijacked airliners and flew them in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. (Photo by Mike Segar -Pool/Getty Images)

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 11: A subway heads into Manhattan September 11, 2008 in New York City. Seven years after the 9/11 terrorist strikes, New Yorkers will remember the attacks that killed more than 2,700 people with the destruction of the World Trade Center’s twin towers. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 11: Family members of victims, firefighters and police officers walk in line in the rain at the reflecting pool placing flowers as people gather at Ground Zero during a 9/11 memorial ceremony on September 11, 2009 in New York City. Family of the victims, government officials and others gathered at the annual ceremony to remember the attacks that killed more than 2,700 people with the destruction of the World Trade Center, the crash at the Pentagon and United 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. (Photo by Rick Gershon/Getty Images)

Firefighters surround a reflecting pool in the middle of Ground Zero before the annual memorial service on September 11, 2010 in New York City. Thousands will gather to pay a solemn homage on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. POOL/Chris Hondros (Photo credit should read CHRIS HONDROS/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 11: A bouquet of flowers is viewed on a fence overlooking the lower Manhattan skyline on the morning of September 11, 2011 in New York City. New York City and the nation are commemorating the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan which resulted in the deaths of 2,753 people when two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center. Security has been heightened in both New York City and Washington D.C. following a terrorist threat about a car bomb. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 11: The skyline rises over Lower Manhattan on the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks September 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. New York City and the nation are commemorating the eleventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks which resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people after two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and one crash landed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

HOBOKEN, NJ – SEPTEMBER 11: People attend an interfaith memorial as the ‘Tribute in Light’ shines from the Manhattan skyline next to One World Trade Center to commemorate all those who were lost on 9/11 on September 11, 2013 in Hoboken, New Jersey. The lights are located at West and Morris streets in lower Manhattan. The nation is commemorating the anniversary of the 2001 attacks which resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people after two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and one crash landed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 11: The lower Manhattan skyline is seen from Brooklyn September 11, 2014 in New York City. This year marks the 13th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and on Flight 93. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

JERSEY CITY, NJ – SEPTEMBER 11: The Tribute in Light shines over the New York Skyline on September 11, 2015 in Jersey City, New Jersey . Today marks the fourteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks when terroristists high jacked airliners and flew them in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 11: The ‘Tribute in Light’ illumiinates the skyline of Lower Manhattan as seen from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, September 11, 2016 in New York City. Throughout the country services are being held to remember the 2,977 people who were killed in New York, at the Pentagon and in a field in rural Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 11: The ‘Tribute in Light’ rises above the skyline of Lower Manhattan as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge, September 11, 2017 in New York City. In New York City and throughout the United States, the country is marking the 16th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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“I am optimistic about the 9/11 VCF bill moving through the House quickly, and the Senate should do the same,” Gillibrand told Yahoo News. “As the first responders so eloquently testified in the House today, they are sick, they are dying, and they shouldn’t have to keep coming back to Congress every five years just to receive basic decency for their sacrifice. This is all about political will and whether the Senate is willing to truly ‘never forget the heroes of 9/11.’ We can and should do the right thing now.”

The office of the Senate majority leader did not respond to a request for comment regarding the legislation’s prospects.

Outside, meanwhile, it was a perfect late spring day in Washington, not unlike the one that, 18 years earlier, saw the nation suffer the worst terrorist attack in its history. In the hearing room, the rows of chairs reserved for the audience was largely claimed by members of the New York Fire Department and other first responders. The FDNY lost 343 members on 9/11. It has lost another 150 since then. Many of them have succumbed to illness resulting from breathing particulate matter that lingered in New York for months after the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Outside the hearing room where Stewart and others delivered their testimony, firefighter Gerard Fitzgerald recounted to Yahoo News how his wife had woken him that fateful morning at the couple’s Brooklyn home following a night shift. She told him that an airplane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. He watched as the fire consumed the building’s upper floors. “Those guys are getting their asses kicked,” he remembered thinking at the time of the firefighters who would have to contend with the blaze.

Then the second plane hit. Fitzgerald rushed to lower Manhattan, along with hundreds of other firefighters from New York City and surrounding municipalities. He worked until five the next morning, looking for survivors, slept a couple of hours, then returned to what would come to be known as “the pile.” The 24-hour shifts would go on for a month, while work on clearing debris from lower Manhattan would go on until the following spring.

Christine Todd Whitman, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency at the time, said that the air in lower Manhattan was safe to breathe. She has since apologized for that assessment, which was countered by a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Daily News investigation that discovered that the particulate matter was highly toxic.

None of this, of course, was apparent to the men and women sifting through the burning wound in Manhattan. “We weren’t really thinking about it,” Fitzgerald told Yahoo News. “We didn’t have a lot of respiratory protection.”

Fizgerald had worked in construction, and he knew that the World Trade Center had been the last major construction project in New York City to use asbestos, albeit only partially. When inhaled, asbestos can cause a type of lung cancer known as mesothelioma, which is among the strains of cancer that have befallen many of those who responded to 9/11.

“We did the best we could,” Fitzgerald said. He did not suffer any serious effects himself, but knows of hundreds of other firefighters who have been stricken with either cancer or respiratory problems.

Showing his solidarity with the first responders was Democratic Rep. Max Rose, whose district, encompassing Staten Island and a part of Brooklyn, is home to many members of the uniformed services. Rose, who is not a member of the House Judiciary Committee, sat in the audience. He has earned commitments from all Democratic first-term members of the House to vote for funding the VCF.

“When it comes to having the backs of the first responders and their families who were there for us on 9/11 and the days following, it’s not about politics — it’s about doing the right thing,” Rose told Yahoo News. He added, “I’m proud to join these heroic New Yorkers at today’s subcommittee hearing and to see the House taking real action to permanently renew and fully fund the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and hope to see the Senate follow suit with similar speed and urgency. Failure to do so is simply not an option.”

Stewart’s angry testimony had the effect of leading several of the legislators to make unambiguous commitments to see the VCF funded. “There are too few issues today that draw everybody in Congress together,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., the subcommittee’s ranking member. He promised that absent members of the House Judiciary Committee would watch a recorded version of the hearing. “I can’t recall being so moved by testimony as I was today,” Johnson added.

20 PHOTOS

Rarely seen photos from 9/11

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President George W. Bush watches news coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center as he is briefed in a classroom at Emma. E Booker Elementary School on September 11, 2001. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

In a photo taken two days after the attacks, the extensive damage to the Pentagon can be seen.

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill

Late into the night on September 11, 2001, the Pentagon continues to smoke. 

Photo Credit: Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Houlihan

A clock frozen at the time of impact inside the Pentagon. 

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons

A scorched fifth-floor office desk from inside the Pentagon. 

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons

More damage from the fifth-floor of the Pentagon.

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons

President George W. Bush talks on the phone aboard Air-force One as his senior staff talks nearby. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

George W. Bush converses with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice inside the President’s Emergency Operations Center on the day of the attacks. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice listen intently during meetings in the President’s Emergency Operations Center. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

More views from inside the President’s Emergency Operations Center on September 11, 2001. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

Smoke billows from site of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Paul Morse, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

New York National Guard soldiers from the 69th Infantry Division and New York City firefighters work together to clear rubble from the ground zero. 

Photo Credit: New York National Guard photo

A New York National Guard soldier at ground zero. 

Photo Credit: New York National Guard photo

Secretary of State Colin Powell from inside the President’s Emergency Operations Center. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney converse inside the President’s Emergency Operations Center on September 11, 2001. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

One day after the attack’s President George W. Bush greets rescue workers, firefighters, and military who were on site at the Pentagon. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

The President thanks Firefighters, rescue workers, and military personnel at ground zero. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

President George W. Bush holds hands with his father during the service for America’s National Day of Prayer and Remembrance on September 14, 2001. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) hang the largest authorized flag for the military over the side of the Pentagon as cleanup and recovery continue after the attacks. 

Photo Credit: Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Pendergrass

Taken on Feb. 8, 2004, the widow of pilot Jason Dahl who was flying United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, holds a flag honoring those who sacrificed their lives on 9/11.  The plane is believed to have been en route to the White House but crashed in Somerset Pennsylvania.

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Darin Overstreet

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Source: https://www.aol.com/article/news/2019/06/11/a-furious-jon-stewart-tells-congress-to-support-911-first-responders-its-an-embarrassment/23747529/

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