WASHINGTON -- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) ran away from a 9/11 responder who approached him outside a Washington apartment building to talk about reauthorizing the 9/11 health treatment program, the man told The Huffington Post.
Dan Moynihan, a former volunteer firefighter and ex-Marine who was at ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001, visited the capital this week to lobby lawmakers to pass a new bill to replace the expiring James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
On Thursday morning, as Moynihan was leaving the building where he stayed for his visit, he spotted the Republican presidential candidate in the lobby, talking on a cell phone. Since the dozens of visits that Moynihan and other 9/11 responders had made on Capitol Hill on Wednesday were with staffers, he took the chance to buttonhole Paul, who has so far declined to support a new bill.
"I said, 'Sen. Paul, could I have a moment of your time? I'd like to talk to you about the World Trade Center health bill,'" Moynihan said.
"I'm talking fast, it's the elevator pitch, and now the sidewalk pitch," said Moynihan, who described Paul as looking relaxed while he was on the phone, but nervous when he saw that a man wearing a firefighter T-shirt and Marine pin had recognized him.
"Now he's out the door and he's mumbling and tumbling, 'Well, my car is waiting,'" Moynihan said, adding that Paul mentioned getting to a meeting. "He literally jets out into two-way traffic, oncoming traffic."
Moynihan has a penchant for acting when he sees a chance. A volunteer firefighter from Long Island, he happened to be in upper Manhattan on the day of the 9/11 attacks. He responded immediately to the disaster, still dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, and spent nearly a month working the site.
After making little headway with Paul's office this week, Moynihan said he saw a chance to advance the bill when he encountered the senator in person, and took it.
Paul was in Washington on Thursday to give at least two interviews, according to his Twitter posts. The building where Moynihan spotted him is close to the Senate office buildings, Union Station and the offices of many media organizations, and serves as home to numerous Capitol Hill staffers.
His office suggested the senator recalls the encounter slightly differently, and apparently didn't realize Moynihan was already in the building when he ran into Paul. A spokesperson downplayed the incident.
"This is a story about nothing," the office said in an emailed statement. "Our office has spoken with and met with Mr. Moynihan numerous times, even this week. Sen. Paul was on the phone and heading into his apartment when Mr. Moynihan followed him across the street and into his apartment building. Sen. Paul did not know what Mr. Moynihan was approaching him about and was unable to speak with him at that time.”
Moynihan first told his story to friends at the New York City Firefighter Brotherhood Foundation, which posted his tale on Facebook and encouraged members to call Paul's offices. The firefighter foundation pointed out that while Paul has not backed a 9/11 bill, he has tweeted about never forgetting that day.
Most other Republican presidential contenders have also declined to take a stance on the 9/11 bill. So far, only former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have supported replacing it. However, more than a dozen Republicans in the Senate have signed on to the measure.
The health portion of the old Zadroga Act expired on Sept. 30, and the treatment program it funded will run out of money sometime in 2016. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is expected to take the lead on the legislation, has not yet set a date to do so, though committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has said the bill is a high priority.
Responders and advocates for the bill are trying to get the replacement passed before Congress leaves for Christmas.
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Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.