Jon Stewart stepped away from the spotlight when he left The Daily Show back in 2015. One thing he has not stepped away from is being a vocal advocate for 9/11 survivors, first responders and those still suffering from health problems connected to the terror attack that took place in New York City nearly 20 years ago.
On Tuesday, Stewart was sworn in and testified during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorizing the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. Stewart held nothing back as he lashed out at lawmakers about the empty seats at the hearing.
“As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process of what getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to,” he 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. Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country and it’s a shame on this institution.”
Stewart fought back tears while he spoke for nearly ten minutes. “It would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy were benign, but it’s not,” Stewart said. “Your indifference costs these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of.”
Stewart spoke with compassion and rage when he spoke about the first responders who saved lives while risking their own.
“They responded in five seconds,” Stewart concluded. “They did their jobs, with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. Eighteen years later — do yours! Thank you.”
Stewart received a standing ovation and hugs from some of those in attendance.
“I’m sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic, but I am angry … and they’re angry as well,” Stewart said as he pointed to the rows of first responders in the audience. He then noted that many members of Congress had pledged to “never forget the heroes of 9/11, only to drag their heels in providing money for their medical care, and even then with temporary funding.”
Shortly after Steward spoke Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, tweeted his support of Stewart and said he wanted to take names.
Stewart spoke after an appearance by the ailing Luis Alverez, who is a retired New York Police Department bomb squad detective who was at Ground Zero after the collapse of the Twin Towers.
“You all said you would never forget. Well, I’m here to make sure that you don’t,” Alvarez said. “Less than 24 hours from now, I will be starting my 69th round of chemotherapy. Yeah, you heard that correct. I should not be here with you, but you made me come.”
Alvarez stated that the Victim Compensation Fund gave him a fighting chance against cancer and that other survivors will need the funds to be available to them as well.
“My life isn’t worth more than the next responder to get cancer,” he said.
Congress created the fund and supplied it with $7.4 billion to cover claims up to December of 2020. By February of this year over $5 billion in funds had already been dispersed to more than 20,000 survivors. Most of the funding was used by survivors that have been stricken with cancer and respiratory diseases.
“I’m awfully tired of hearing it’s 9/11, a New York issue. Al Qaeda didn’t shout death to Tribeca,” Stewart said. “They attacked America. And these men and women and their response to it is what brought our country back. You are ignoring them.”
After the hearing, Rep. Mike Johnson predicted the bill would pass with overwhelming support. He added that lawmakers meant no disrespect as they came and went from the subcommittee hearing, stating that is a common occurrence on Capitol Hill.