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WATCH: Jon Stewart slams Congress in emotional testimony at 9/11 victim fund hearing

Published: Wednesday, June 12, 2019 @ 3:56 AM

Entertainer and activist Jon Stewart lends his support to firefighters, first responders and survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks at a subcommittee hearing Tuesday.  AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Entertainer and activist Jon Stewart lends his support to firefighters, first responders and survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks at a subcommittee hearing Tuesday. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

An emotional Jon Stewart slammed lawmakers while speaking Tuesday at a subcommittee hearing about the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, saying it was "an embarrassment to the country" that more representatives weren't present at the meeting.

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"As I sit here today, 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," said the former "Daily Show" host and vocal advocate for police, firefighters and others who fell sick after responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress."

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According to The Associated Press, emergency responders joined Stewart at the hearing, held before the House Committee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, to support legislation that would make sure the fund can continue to cover health care benefits for 70 years to those suffering from illnesses possibly linked to the attack sites.

"Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one," Stewart told lawmakers, eyeing vacant seats in the room. "Shameful."

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Earlier this year, Rupa Bhattacharyya, special master of the fund, said it is running low on money. Although $5 billion has been awarded to 21,000 claimants, only $2.4 billion remains as the fund faces another 20,000 pending claims as the December 2020 filing deadline approaches. As a result, "benefit payments are being cut by up to 70%," the AP reported.

If approved, the Never Forget the Heroes Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., would authorize the fund through 2090 and extend the filing deadline to October 2089.

On Tuesday, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., defended his 14-member subcommittee, a division of the larger House Judiciary Committee, following Stewart's speech.

"All these empty chairs – that's because it's for the full committee, not because it's disrespect or lack of attention to you," he said, according to the Hill.

Two subcommittee members, bill co-sponsors Reps. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Penn., and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., were not at the hearing, NBC News reported. Other members may have been "coming and going" during the meeting, a spokesman told Fox News.

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., said Tuesday that the bill should have no trouble passing, NBC News reported.

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– The Associated Press contributed to this report.