Jon Stewart may have left “The Daily Show” behind several years ago but he continues to serve as an unofficial ombudsman of American decency.
And that role is no better defined than in Stewart’s continued advocacy on the behalf of 911 survivors and the families of victims.
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“Al-Qaeda didn’t shout death to Tribeca – they attacked America, and these men and women and their response to it is what brought our country back,” Stewart said to Congress in testimony that went viral last week. “They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility,” Stewart added while visibly fighting back tears. “Eighteen years later, do yours!”
Stewart has been beating the drum, using his celebrity and influence to pressure Congress into renewing the 911 Survivors Fund, which helps provide medical support for people affected by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. And after straight up giving it to members of Congress for their disgraceful refusal to renew the bill, a House panel finally took action this week.
According to The Press Herald: “The $7.3 billion fund has paid about $5 billion to roughly 21,000 claimants. About 700 were for deaths that occurred long after the attacks.” Upwards of 19,000 claims remain unpaid.
The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously and is expected to pass the now-Democratically controlled House before heading over to the U.S. Senate, where it faces a far less certain fate under the Republican controlled body. Senate Minority Leader reacted to the House vote by imploring Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take action:
“We will reach the point soon, most likely this year, when more will have died from 9/11-related illnesses than on 9/11 itself,” Schumer said. “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 our help. . . . I am imploring, pleading, even begging to Leader McConnell, to put the bill on the floor immediately after it passes the House.”
Is there anything less politically controversial than providing health care for the first responders on the scene after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? You’d think it’s a total a no-brainer, an easy win for elected leaders on both sides of the aisle. Republicans get to show their resolute support for those fighting the war on terror and Democrats get to double down on their compassion and support of expanding social services to those most in need.
And yet a funding renewal bill in Congress remains stalled even as some of those heroes from 9/11 are literally sick and dying, some already dead, nearly 20 years after a day that changed the course of world history.
Former “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart has been on the case for years. And now he’s back at it, bringing some much deserved righteous anger to a Congress that somehow has refused to act through both Democratic and Republican leadership cycles.
Technically, Congress has repeatedly passed funding bills for first responders but they have each been tethered to 5-year-timelines and the Justice Department said current funds are quickly running out.
In an interview on CNN, Stewart said: “The idea that 18 years later they’re still tugging on the hemline on the government to get this bill through and get it funded properly is truly beyond comprehension.”
As the Washington Post reports, he was joined in the interview by John Feal, a 9/11 first responder who lost his foot that day and has attended 181 funerals of fellow first responders afflicted by injuries and illnesses stemming from that day.
“I love Jon Stewart. He’s my friend. But I love Kenny Specht and Rich Palmer and Michael Connor more,” Feal said. “Those guys are sick. Those guys are dying. So we’re gonna challenge every member of Congress in this town. We’re going to challenge their empathy. We’re going to challenge their humanity.”