Bearded Jon Stewart lobbies on behalf of 9/11 first responders
WASHINGTON — Comedian Jon Stewart apologized to 9/11 first responders Wednesday saying it was embarrassing that they had to plead with Congress to renew their health and compensation coverage.
“I want to apologize to all the men and women — the first responders — that you had to come down here today,” Stewart, wearing a blue FDNY T-shirt, said in joining the lobbying effort outside the Capitol. “I’m embarrassed that you, after serving so selflessly and with heroism, have to come down here to convince people to do what’s right.”
Flanked by fire and police personnel — some in wheelchairs — the former “Daily Show” host added: “Nobody had to lobby you to rush to those towers on that day. I was living in downtown Manhattan and I can never repay the debt to the first responders who brought stability and humanity … to the entire country.”
The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act provides benefits to first responders who are sick after inhaling toxic air at the smoldering site of the World Trade Center towers struck by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.
More than 150 bipartisan lawmakers have signed onto a permanent renewal of the bill that will begin phasing out in October.
No vote has been scheduled to extend it.
“It’s really a national responsibility,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) “It shouldn’t have to be this kind of effort. I find it a national scandal.”
Joseph Zadroga, father of the NYPD detective who died in 2006 after battling lung disease, had this message for congress: “Shame on you,” Zadroga told the Post.
Without the health benefits, “I don’t know what these people are going to do. I watched Jimmy die because he didn’t get proper care. He could have had a lung transplant. He might be alive today,” the tearful father said.
Robert Gayer, a 9/11 first responder who was wearing an American flag pin he says was given to him by President George W. Bush, was among the fire and police officers frustrated with Congress’ inaction to help those suffering.
“We help other countries before we help our own people. It’s crazy,” Gayer said.
Signs of hope came from the GOP leadership following the lobbying efforts.
House Speaker John Boehner said he’s “committed” to the issue, though he didn’t provide a timeline.
“Our members and leadership team are reviewing the legislation and are committed to protecting the victims of 9/11,” Boehner press secretary Emily Schillinger said.
Also Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate intends to renew the program. Sen. Chuck Schumer praised the decision as “a really bright glimmer of hope.”
Prior to the rally and daylong lobbying efforts, Stewart huddled with first responders to thank them and share their frustration with Congress.
“If you say you have to educate them, this is the easiest f–king class they’ll ever take,” Stewart told responders.
“This Congress – these guys are the last responders. You guys were the first.”
Many of the first responders and advocates were in Washington in June to push for renewal of the program that currently helps some 70,000 people with health monitoring and care.
Many have made dozens of trips to Washington over the years to ask for help – but believe Stewart’s involvement may make the difference.
“There’s a lot of people shaking in their boots,” said Richard Alles from the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. “They’re scared because they know we’re bringing a guy called Jon Stewart. And let me tell you about Jon Stewart, he doesn’t take any crap from anybody. … And he’s going to kick some serious butt today.”
John Feal, a first responder advocate and president of the Feel Good Foundation, put it more bluntly: “I’m going to put my foot in their ass. I’m not going to sugar coat this — foot to ass – ’cause we are talking about human life. We’re talking about men and women dying.”