9/11 Victims Fund Bill Unanimously Passes After Jon Stewart Publicly Shames House Panel

The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill on Wednesday which would permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, one day after comedian and activist Jon Stewart tore the committee a new one on Tuesday - calling them "shameful" over the number of empty seats on the panel. 

"I can't help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is ... a filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one ... shameful," Stewart began. 

The first responders sitting behind Stewart included retired NYPD detective Luis Alvarez, who was about to start his 69th round of chemotherapy for liver cancer

"It’s an embarrassment to the country and a stain on the institution and you should be ashamed of yourselves, for those who aren’t here, but you won’t be because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber," said Stewart. 

On Wednesday, chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) dismissed calls to require a full committee vote after a handful of lawmakers were once again absent. 

In August 2006, then-Governor George Pataki signed a law requiring that New York City increase death benefits to relatives of 9/11 first responders. As reported by the New York Times: 

The new law builds on one passed last year that declared that people who worked on the Sept. 11 rescue and cleanup operations, and later got certain respiratory illness or cancers, would be presumed to have gotten sick in the course of their official duties, entitling them to valuable disability pensions. The new law entitles workers who then die from such diseases to qualify for line-of-duty death benefits.

Also in 2006, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) co-sponsored what would eventually become the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named after a NYPD officer whose death may have been caused by exposure to toxic chemicals at Ground Zero. The act resulted in a grant of $4.3 billion for treatments and care services for 9/11 survivors as well as emergency workers. It passed despite a Republican filibuster effort over its cost, and was signed into law in 2011. 

Monday’s rebuke of the House Judiciary Committee was not the first time the former Daily Show host has fought for 9/11 first responders. In December 2010, Stewart focused an entire episode of his Comedy Central show on the political conflict over the Zadroga Act, bringing on first responders suffering from related illnesses, lambasting Republicans blocking the bill, and criticizing the lack of media coverage of the issue. “I don’t even know if there was a deal [to pass the act], to be honest with you, before his show,” Kenny Specht, a firefighter interviewed on the Daily Showtold the New York Times.

In 2015, Stewart returned to the Daily Show to talk with host Trevor Noah about the Zadroga Act. By 2016, lawmakers had voted to extend the act’s coverage for the next 75 years. -NY Mag

In February, Stewart gave the Trump DOJ credit for handling the cash-strapped program. "The Trump Justice Department is doing a good job running the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund," said Stewart. 

"The claims are moving through faster, and the awards are coming through," Stewart added while lobbying for the new bill that the House panel passed on Wednesday.