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Jon Stewart and Mitch McConnell Spar Over 9/11 Fund

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
Jon Stewart at his 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear (Photo: Flickr Cliff)

“I want to make it clear that this has never been dealt with compassionately by Sen. McConnell. He has always held out until the very last minute.”

Jon Stewart slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday for saying he didn’t know why the comedian was “all bent out of shape” about the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund that will expire next year without reauthorization. Stewart brought national attention to the cause after an emotional testimony before a House Judiciary subcommittee last week, and the former “Today Show” host says he views McConnell as the biggest hurdle to passing the bill.

“Basically we’re saying you love the 9/11 community when they serve your political purposes, but when they’re in urgent need, you slow walk, you dither, you use it as a political pawn to get other things you want,” Stewart said on CBS’ “The Late Show” with Steven Colbert.

The 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund was created in 2001 to support survivors and first responders of the terrorist attack who suffer ongoing medical problems, including cancer, from inhaling toxic fumes and other circumstances during the crisis. The Fund is rapidly depleting and set to expire in 2020, and the Fund’s Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya warned in February that it would have to “make significant reductions in awards,” without additional funding.

“I think this community is at the end of their rope. I think there is a feeling of disbelief. They can’t understand why they have to continually have to saddle up and ride down to Washington and make these appeals for something that should be simple, but somehow through politics is made agonizingly difficult,” Stewart told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.

Stewart has long been an advocate for 9/11 victims and responders, and he is a supporter of the Never Forget The Heroes Act, which would extend the fund through 2090 and end the need for reauthorization. The Never Forget The Heroes Act has 312 cosponsors and is widely expected to pass in the House, although McConnell has not given a clear answer on whether he’ll support the bill in the Senate.

“Gosh, I hadn’t looked at that lately,” the Senate leader said last Wednesday when asked about the bill the day after Stewart’s testimony. “I’ll have to. We’ve always dealt with that in the past in a compassionate way, and I assume we will again.”

In his Sunday interview with Fox, Stewart disputed McConnell’s claim that the Fund had been dealt with in a “compassionate way.”

“I want to make it clear that this has never been dealt with compassionately by Sen. McConnell. He has always held out until the very last minute, and only then, under intense lobbying and public shaming, has he even deigned to move on it,” Stewart told Fox’s Chris Wallace.

In an interview on Fox News on Monday, McConnell defended his handling of the Fund, saying, “Many things in Congress have [come] at the last minute. We have never failed to address this issue, and we will address it again. I don’t know why he is all bent out of shape.”

Stewart appeared on “The Late Show” later Monday night condemning McConnell’s delay tactics and imploring him not to use the bill as a “political football.” He criticized the Senate Majority Leader earlier for using the Fund’s former reauthorizations as a bargaining chip to perpetuate the Bush tax cuts in 2010 and to fight for promises on oil imports in 2015.

“If you want to know why we’re bent out of shape, meet with them tomorrow, and don’t make them beg for it,” Stewart responded on Monday, challenging McConnell’s excuses for delaying the bill. “You could pass this thing as a stand alone bill tomorrow.”

The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance the Never Forget The Heroes Act the day after Stewart’s testimony last week, and will now go to the House floor.

Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a co-owner Citizen Truth.

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