Jon Stewart blasts Congress over health care for 9/11 first responders and gets standing ovation

Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart has been a longtime advocate for the 9/11 first responders, who sacrificed their health to rescue victims of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The cancer-causing toxins present in the air at Ground Zero created deadly illnesses that killed 15 police officers in 2018 alone, CBS News reports. In total, more than 580 people died from 9/11-related cancers, according to the CDC's stats as of September 2018.

Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010, which provides health care and financial aid to 9/11 first responders, volunteers and survivors. The law was renewed in 2015 for 90 years. However, the separate 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), which provides necessary financial support to thousands of survivors suffering from medical issues, was only funded until the end of 2020.

Following successful campaigns for the Zadroga Act, Stewart testified to Congress on Tuesday on behalf of extending the VCF. The chambers were full of 9/11 first responders suffering from serious health issues, but only five members of the House Judiciary subcommittee attended the hearing. Furious over lawmakers' apparent indifference and the constant bureaucratic battles on Capitol Hill, Stewart slammed Congress in a powerful speech.

"I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to," the comedian said. "Behind me, 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. It is an embarrassment to the country and it is a stain on this institution."

"You should be ashamed of yourselves for not being here," Stewart declared. "Accountability appears to not be something that occurs in this chamber. Why this bill is not unanimous consent is beyond my comprehension. More of these men and woman are going to get sick and they're going to die, and I'm awfully tired of hearing this is a 'New York issue.' Al-Qaeda didn't shout 'death to Tribeca.' They attacked America."

After excoriating Congress for treating the legislation like a "political football" and attaching unrelated spending requests, Stewart grew extremely emotional, and appeared to choke back tears. "I'm sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic, but I am angry, and you should be too, and they’re all angry as well," he said. "Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: Time. It's the one thing they're running out of."

The former Comedy Central star concluded his statement by imploring the House to take action. "They responded in five seconds," Stewart pointed out. "They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility! 18 years later - do yours!" The 9/11 survivors present in the chambers responded with a standing ovation.