Stewart aims at McConnell in fight for 9/11 victim fund
Former late night host and 9/11 first responders advocate Jon Stewart said Sunday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has never been compassionate in his congressional dealings when it comes to passing health care packages for first responders.
“In terms of getting the 9/11 bills passed, Mitch McConnell has been the white whale of this since 2010,” Stewart said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This has never been dealt with compassionately by Sen. McConnell.” Stewart appeared to reference the character Capt. Ahab’s inability to capture the notoriously hard-to-catch albino whale in Herman Melville’s novel “Moby Dick.”
“He has always held out until the last minute, and only then after intense lobbying and public shaming has he even deigned to move on it,” he said.
Stewart’s comments follow his viral confrontation with lawmakers on Capitol Hill days earlier. There, Stewart, surrounded by first responders, slammed members of the House Judiciary Committee for not showing up for the hearing on reauthorizing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which compensates first responders and other individuals who file claims connected to injuries, deaths and and health problems related to 9/11.
McConnell, who has not come out on either side of the proposed legislation, said at a news conference that day, “We’ve always dealt with that in the past in a compassionate way, and I assume we will again.”
The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill the following day to authorize additional funding until 2090, but if the bill passes the full House, it would also need to pass the Senate.
While Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer last week urged McConnell to put the bill on the floor as soon as the House passes it, Stewart was not optimistic Sunday about the bill’s fate in the Senate, grimacing when Fox host Chris Wallace mentioned that the bill needed to move to the Senate after the House.
“Not all Republicans oppose this, but everyone who has opposed it is a Republican, and it’s unacceptable,” Stewart said Sunday.
The current law was renewed in 2015 and is set to expire in 2020, but the fund’s administrator announced in February that there was insufficient funding to pay all claims. At the time of its last renewal, Congress appropriated $4.6 billion for the fund, bringing the total appropriated amount of the fund over the years to $7.4 billion. The new bill does not call for a specific amount of money but whatever sums necessary through 2090.
“I think this community is at the end of their rope,” Stewart said. “I think there’s a feeling of disbelief, that they can’t understand why they have to continually saddle up and ride down to Washington and make these appeals for something that should be simple but is somehow, through politics, made agonizingly difficult.”
He continued: “If you were to take all the arrogance and entitlement and elitism that people don’t like about Hollywood and show business, and you concentrated it in one city, and gave those people actual power, that’s Washington.”
CNN’s Alex Rogers, Eli Watkins and Caroline Kelly contributed to this report.