Jon Stewart on Tuesday torched lawmakers in emotional testimony for failing to attend a September 11th Victim Compensation Fund hearing, calling it “shameful” and “a stain on this institution.”
“As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to,” Stewart said at the beginning of his remarks at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on reauthorizing the victim fund.
“Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak, to no one — it’s shameful,” the former “Daily Show” host said.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves for those that aren’t here,” Stewart said, his voice wavering at times, “but you won’t be, because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”
“None of these people want to be here,” Stewart continued of the sick and injured survivors. “But they are. And they’re not here for themselves. They’re here to continue fighting for what’s right.”
Stewart noted there wasn’t a single lawmaker at the hearing who on the anniversary of Sept. 11 failed to tweet, “Never forget the heroes of 9/11.”
“Well here they are!” the 56-year-old comedian exclaimed. “And where are they?”
“It would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy were benign, but it’s not,” Stewart, shaking his head, continued as he spoke to Congress. “Your indifference costs these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of.”
Later in the hearing, Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenDemocrats begin Mueller hearings with Watergate-era witness Democrats begin Mueller hearings with Watergate-era witness Who are the House Democrats backing Trump impeachment? MORE (D-Tenn.) appeared to respond to Stewart’s remarks, saying, “I’m going to defend the institution, it’s sometimes not easy to defend. But it’s the bulwark of democracy — and that’s the United States Congress.”
Cohen pointed out that the hearing was held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
“My subcommittee, every single member on my side, which is eight of us, have been here today,” Cohen continued. “All these empty chairs that’s because it’s for the full committee, not because it’s disrespect or lack of attention to you.”
Cohen noted that some lawmakers could have conflicting committee hearings and meetings, or be visiting with constituents or watching on TV.
Saying he appreciated what Stewart has “done and what you do, and what you’ve said,” Cohen added, “the Congress will respond.”
Stewart has been a frequent presence on Capitol Hill, urging lawmakers to ensure that the Sept. 11 victim fund remains fully funded. The victim fund announced earlier this year that it was running out of money, saying in February that it could face cuts of 50 to 70 percent. Proponents of the legislation to fully fund it say the compensation funding for survivors should be made permanent.
Stewart expressed frustration at the pace of the legislation, questioning why “this is so damn hard and takes so damn long.”
“I’m sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic. But I’m angry, and you should be, too. And they’re all angry as well. And they have every justification to be that way.”
“They responded in five seconds. They did their jobs,” an impassioned Stewart said of the first responders.
“Eighteen years later,” Stewart added forcefully, “do yours!”
— Updated at 1:05 p.m.