Comedian Jon Stewart had the opportunity to speak to Congress for failing to ensure that a victims’ compensation fund set up after the 9/11 attacks never runs out of money. Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, angrily called out lawmakers for failing to attend Tuesday’s hearing on a bill that would ensure the fund can pay benefits for the next 70 years.
Stewart said, “Behind me a filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress.” Stewart continued emotionally, “Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity—time. It’s one thing they’re running out of. This should be flipped. This hearing should be flipped. These men and women should be up on that stage and Congress should be down here answering their questions as to why this is so damn hard, and takes so damn long.”
Pointing to rows of empty seats at a House Judiciary Committee hearing room, Stewart said, “sick and dying” first responders and their families came to Washington for the hearing, only to face a nearly deserted dais. Along with Stewart, some first responders had the opportunity to speak.
Among the testimonials was Luis Alvarez, a retired NYPD detective and 9/11 responder. Alvarez was visibly shaken when he spoke, saying, “I should not be here with you, but you made me come. You made me come because I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11 like me, are valued less than anyone else because of when they get sick they die.”
Thomas Mohnal, FBI special agent and 9/11 responder said, “I am here today to ask Congress why they believe that my life is not worth the same as those that became sick before me, and how my life could be worth more than those that will most certainly become ill after me.”
Lila Nordstrom, 9/11 survivor explained to Congress, “And I haven’t even had my 20th high school reunion yet, but I already have five former classmates with lymphomas that I just know personally. My friend Michelle is in remission from thyroid cancer. Other classmates of mine have been diagnosed with rare bone cancers, testicular cancers, melanomas. There’s even a male breast cancer survivor among us.”
Stewart called the lack of attendance “an embarrassment to the country and a stain on the institution” of Congress. Lawmakers said they support the bill and were monitoring the hearing amid other congressional business.