Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday fired back at Jon Stewart after the comedian accused him of dragging his feet on legislation that would benefit first responders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, tore into Republican lawmakers during an interview with “Fox News Sunday” for their reluctance to reauthorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), which is facing a significant funding lapse.
“I want to make it clear that this has never been dealt with compassionately by Sen. McConnell,” Stewart told Fox News, referring to past VCF legislation. “He has always held out to the very last minute, and only then, under intense lobbying and public shaming, has he even deigned to move on it.”
The hosts of “Fox & Friends” on Monday asked McConnell about Stewart’s criticism and why congressional votes on the fund often occur at the “last minute.”
“Well, many things that Congress have at the last minute,” McConnell said. “We’ve never failed to address this issue. And we will address it again. I don’t know why he’s all bent out of shape.”
Host Steve Doocy noted that Stewart was outraged that so few members attended a House subcommittee hearing about the bill last week, where he gave an emotional testimony about the needs of 9/11 responders and their families. Out of the subcommittee’s 14 members, just half showed up, CBS News reported.
“Well, that frequently happens because members have a lot of things going on at the same time,” McConnell said. “It sounds to me like he’s looking for some way to take offense. There’s no way we won’t address this problem appropriately.”
Asked if the VCF will be fully funded, McConnell said yes.
The Never Forget the Heroes Act of 2019 would ensure the fund can deliver benefits to 9/11 responders for the next 70 years. Stewart has visited Capitol Hill several times in recent months to advocate on behalf of the fund’s beneficiaries.
Roughly 45,000 people are suffering from at least one 9/11-related chronic health condition and more than 10,000 have been certified with a 9/11-related cancer, Stewart wrote in an op-ed for the New York Daily News in February.
The Justice Department announced earlier that month that a lack of funding for the VCF would lead to compensation cuts as large 50 to 70 percent. A total of 835 awards have been reduced as of May 31, The Associated Press reported.
“Your indifference is costing these men and women their most valuable commodity: time,” Stewart told lawmakers on Tuesday. “It’s the one thing they’re running out of.”
The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill on Wednesday. Before heading to the Senate, the proposed legislation will need to pass a full House vote, which has been scheduled for July.