Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart delivered an eviscerating condemnation of congressional inaction before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday, accusing them of “callous indifference and rank hypocrisy” in their treatment toward 9/11 first responders. Stewart criticized the sparse attendance of committee members to the meeting, which was meant to discuss the re-authorization of the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act and Victim Compensation Fund. The fund, which provides health care and financial support to victims and first responders, has recently been forced to cut payouts as it struggles to cover a new surge of claimants.
Following Luis Alvarez, a NYPD first responder and military veteran who addressed the committee on the eve of his 69th round of chemotherapy, Stewart used his opening statement to lambast Congress’s indifference to the realities facing first responders.
“Behind me,” Stewart noted, “a filled room of 9/11 responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak. To no one. … You should be ashamed of yourselves for those that aren’t here, but you won’t be because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”
Stewart sits on the board of directors of the 9/11 Memorial Museum and has long been an advocate for 9/11 first responders, promoting the passage of the Zadroga Act on his final episode as host of The Daily Show in 2010 and returning to promote its re-authorization in 2015. Though Stewart no longer has the platform of a nightly television show, his ability to improvise a powerful monologue was still evident Tuesday morning as footage of his statement quickly spread across the internet and drew attention to the plight of the first responders.
Stewart’s testimony drew responses from congressional members on both sides of the aisle, with Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson admitting that the speech brought him to tears. Meanwhile, Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen supported Stewart’s sentiment but pushed back on his criticism of the committee, noting that the hearing was being held by one of the smaller subcommittees of the House Judiciary and that attendance was actually “pretty good.” The subcommittee, known as the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties consists of 14 members, of whom only California Rep. Eric Swalwell and Pennsylvania Rep. Guy Reschenthaler were absent according to a spokesman for New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the subcommittee chairman.*
Footage of the hearing in its entirety, including the moving statement of Luis Alvarez, is available here.
Correction, June 11, 2019: An earlier version of this post misspelled Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s first name.