Congress

Jon Stewart ups pressure on McConnell to shore up 9/11 survivor fund

‘You love the 9/11 community when it serves your political interests. But when they’re in urgent need, you slow-walk,’ he said

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 June 11, 2019. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Jon Stewart ratcheted up pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to reauthorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund in a late-night television appearance Monday night.

On “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” the comedian continued to lobby for restoring payments to 9/11 responders and survivors who face medical bills and lost compensation. Stewart gave emotional testimony to the House Judiciary Committee last week, urging the Kentucky Republican to reauthorize the shrinking fund and not use it as a bargaining chip. 

“Honestly Mitch McConnell, you really want to go with the ‘we’ll get to it when we get to it’ argument for the heroes of 9/11?” Stewart said. “You love the 9/11 community when it serves your political interests. But when they’re in urgent need you slow-walk. You dither. You use it as a political pawn to get other things you want.”

Stewart’s appeal comes at a critical juncture for the fund.

[After rebuke from Jon Stewart, panel approves 9/11 victim bill]

The number of claimants has climbed as people exposed to toxins in the wake of the attacks have sought help for latent health problems. The fund received a record number of requests in 2018 and is on pace to eclipse that record this year — “a harbinger of the increasing seriousness of 9/11-related illnesses,” according to fund director Rupa Bhattacharyya.

But more than $5 billion of the $7.38 billion reserve has already been depleted. Fund officials began slashing compensation by as much as 70 percent in February in anticipation of a shortfall.

But McConnell brushed off the urgency of shoring up the fund in an interview with Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” Monday morning. 

“We’ve never failed to address this issue and we will address it again. I don’t know why he’s so bent out of shape,” the Kentucky Republican said, referring to Stewart. 

Stewart pushed back in his CBS appearance.

“If you want to know why the 9/11 community is so ‘bent out of shape’ over the last, let’s call it 18 years: Meet with them tomorrow, as soon as possible, and don’t make them beg,” Stewart said. 

In emotional testimony to the House Judiciary Committee last week, Stewart urged McConnell to reauthorize the fund with stand-alone legislation instead of using it as leverage to extract Republican priorities by attaching it to a spending package or other must-pass legislation.

Congress last reauthorized the fund under the James Zadroga 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Reauthorization Act in December 2015 — only a few months prior to its October 2016 expiration, according to Bhattacharyya.

The fund’s current authorization lapses Dec. 31, 2020.

“For many years since 9/11, these responders and residents had to walk the halls of Congress, looking to see if ‘Remember 9/11’ is more than a cheap twitter slogan senators and representatives use to nod in the direction of empathy without having to do anything,” Stewart said in his prepared testimony last week.

On Colbert’s show Monday night, Stewart again lambasted members of the House Judiciary Committee for filtering in and out of the room during testimony last week.

McConnell had dismissed the criticism, telling Fox & Friends “that frequently happens because members have a lot of things going on at the same time.”

“I didn’t mean to interrupt them with their jobs,” Stewart retorted. 

David Lerman contributed to this report. 

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