Politics

Jon Stewart And a Bunch of 9/11 First Responders Just Stormed the Capitol

September 16th 2015

By:
Alex Mierjeski

Over 100 first responders—firefighters, police officers, and other public workers first on the scene following the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001—were joined by comedian and former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart Wednesday morning at a rally outside Capitol Hill. The rally, which was also attended by several congressmen and women, along with Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), called on Congress to extend healthcare programs for those who are suffering due to 9/11 and the clean up of Ground Zero.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compassion Act, which provides medical care and compensation packages to the more than 33,000 first responders injured in the line of duty, begins to expire next month, though funding for portions of the bill extends through October of next year.

Pressed as to why the bill needed renewal now (given that some funding continues for another year), Stewart explained that illnesses contracted by 9/11 first responders required immediate attention, and that the details of the bill's length were no consolation to those affected.

"Today on the hill you may be exposed to possibly toxic levels of bullshit and arrogance," Stewart joked in his remarks at the rally, which was streamed on Periscope.

"You're strong men and women, but these are conditions you may have never have faced before," he continued. "Buckle your seatbelts, and let's get this done."

For the first responders gathered at the capitol, Stewart's presence provided important additional weight to their calls to secure the renewal of healthcare plans and financial compensation for illnesses contracted in the toxic debris that clouded Ground Zero in the days and weeks following the attacks. Stewart addressed the rally and his own presence at the Capitol, saying he was sorry it had to come to this.

"I'm here today basically to apologize," Stewart said, surrounded by a gathered crowd of first responders. "I want to apologize to all the men and women, first responders, that you had to come down here today. I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed for our country, I'm embarrassed for New York, I'm embarrassed that you, after serving so selflessly with such heroism, have to come down here and convince people to do what's right for the illnesses and difficulties that you suffered because of your heroism and because of your selflessness. Nobody had to lobby you to rush to those towers that day."

 

 

Stewart is widely associated with helping to persuade Congress to pass earlier legislation aimed at providing health care and compensation to injured first responders. In 2010, facing strong opposition from Republicans in Congress, Stewart featured the World Trade Center Health Program bill on "The Daily Show," including interviews with first responders. That legislation was passed days after the segment aired.

 

 

According to NBC, both programs, collectively referred to as the Zadroga bill after Detective James Zadroga, who died in 2006, have paid out more that $1.1 billion to those affected by the attacks to date. The range of illnesses suffered by first responders is wide, spanning various cancers, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. So far, over 85 NYPD officers and more than 131 FDNY have died of injuries since 9/11, according to statistics reported by Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act.

Stewart and the first responders will lobby Congress on the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act later Wednesday. Watch Stewart's speech here.