Jon Stewart

In a speech that lasted nine minutes and 11 seconds, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart blasted Congress for holding 9/11 first responders’ healthcare hostage.

The comedian and filmmaker spoke while holding back tears, and began his speech by tersely pointing out that despite 9/11 first responders’ lives depending on Congress funding their healthcare, hardly any members of Congress actually showed up to the hearing to listen to them.

“Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders. And in front of me, a nearly empty Congress,” Stewart said through clenched teeth. “Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak. To no one.”

The fight to ensure full reauthorization of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which established the 9/11 Victims’ Compensation Fund, has been a long one. In 2015, the bill was stalled by two Republican committee chairmen over spending concerns. At the time, then-House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) only allowed a five-year extension of the program, and then-Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Michigan) joined him in that effort.

Jon Stewart took time to describe the healthcare nightmares that the 9/11 first responders in attendance had been through since the attacks. One firefighter had recently endured his 69th chemotherapy treatment, while another, whom Stewart described as “riddled with cancer and pain,” had gotten to the point where he could no longer walk.

Stewart called it “unacceptable” that upon recent visits to the Capitol to push for a bill that would restore funding to the 9/11 Victims’ Compensation Fund — which is due to expire in 2020 — the only response he got from members of Congress and legislative aides was “another business card thrown our way as a way of shooing us away, like children trick-or-treating.”

The iconic comedian explained that his anger toward Congress stemmed from the “rank hypocrisy” of members who praised 9/11 first responders as heroes, but then denied them the healthcare they needed after contracting deadly diseases from the rubble of the World Trade Center.

“There is not a person here, there is not an empty chair on that stage that didn’t tweet out, ‘never forget the heroes of 9/11. Never forget their bravery. Never forget what they did, what they gave to this country.’ Well here they are! And where are they? And it would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy was benign, but it’s not. Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity — time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of.”

Jon Stewart not only drew attention to the hardships the men and women in the chamber with him were facing in terms of their healthcare, but in terms of the financial hardship they’ve been put through in order to pay for costly treatments associated with the various cancers they contracted while rescuing New Yorkers from the rubble (as attorney Matthew Baione previously wrote for Grit Post, first responders have contracted more than 70 different forms of cancer related to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks).

“Setting aside that no American in this country should face financial ruin because of a health issue, certainly 9/11 first responders shouldn’t have to decide whether to live, or to have a place to live,” Stewart said. “And the idea that you can only give them five more years of the [Victims’ Compensation Fund] because you’re not quite sure what’s gonna happen five years from now, I can tell you, I’m pretty sure that I can tell you what’s going to happen five years from now. More of these men and women are going to get sick, and they are going to die.”

“They responded in five seconds. They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility,” Stewart said through tears. “18 years later, do yours!”

Watch the full video of Stewart’s speech below:

 

Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.

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