Over the past few days, Jon Stewart and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have sent barbs back and forth over the senator's lack of urgency in reauthorizing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. During a June 16 appearance on Fox News Sunday, Stewart, a longtime supporter of the fund, called out McConnell for delaying its extension; later that day, on the same show, McConnell responded by calling the comedian "bent out of shape" over what he believes is a non-issue. Things culminated on Monday, June 17, when Stewart showed up on The Late Show to aim a number of powerful insults at the politician.
Speaking on the show, Stewart — who has advocated for 9/11 survivors for years and spoke before Congress on June 11 about the fund's importance — explained why he's so passionate about extending the program, which provides financial support for first responders and survivors of the 2001 attack. The fund was originally only intended to last until 2004, but it has been repeatedly extended by Congress because of survivors' continued health issues. Yet there hasn't been an extension since 2015, causing funds to begin running out and payouts to sick survivors to slow down.
And McConnell is to blame, according to Stewart, since the Senate must vote on the fund's re-authorization once it's approved by the House, but hasn't yet done so. According to the comedian, the senator's lack of urgency in extending the fund is likely solely for the purpose of McConnell's political objectives, as he can attach other pieces of legislation to the approval of the re-authorization.
On The Late Show, Stewart abandoned the polite formalities he donned for his congressional testimony and ripped into the senator, addressing the comments McConnell made at Stewart the day earlier. "He said what? What did he say?" the comedian exclaimed, gripping the edges of host Stephen Colbert's desk. "No Mitch McConnell, I'm not bent out of shape!"
Stewart then re-iterated the importance of the fund, which allows for survivors of the attack to afford costly medical procedures related to injuries they suffered, including the effects of inhaling poisonous debris from the fallen towers. "These are the first heroes, and veterans, and victims of the great trillions of dollars war on terror," Stewart explained. "And they're currently still suffering and dying... you'd think this would be enough to get Congress's attention. But apparently it's not."
Colbert then played a segment of the Fox News Sunday clip in which McConnell claimed that Congress members “have a lot of things going on at the same time," which is apparently why they haven't re-authorized the extension of the fund yet. "I feel like an a**hole," Stewart said after watching the clip, holding onto Colbert's arm. "You know what Stephen, now I feel stupid. This is a huge misunderstanding. I didn't know that they were busy... I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt them with their jobs!"
Stewart then pivoted back from comedian to activist (but not before suggesting that McConnell is actually a turtle, a callback to a regular bit from the star's Daily Show days). In a somber tone, Stewart explained the hard work that has been done over the years by supporters of the fund to get it extended, and how frustrating it is now that although support for another extension is secured and the reauthorization is ready for approval, McConnell still hasn't called for a vote. Stewart ended the segment by telling McConnell, and Colbert's audience, that the senator's choice to delay will only hurt him in the future.
“If the next time we have a war, or you’re being robbed, or your house is on fire, and you make that desperate call for help, don’t get bent out of shape if they show up late, with fewer people than you thought were gonna pay attention, and don’t actually put it out," said Stewart. "Just sort of leave it there smoldering for another five years.”
Currently, the fund is set to expire in 2020, though several members of Congress have stated that they plan extend it indefinitely before that happens. It's unclear if Stewart's television appearances will be effective in pressuring McConnell to push the reauthorization through any faster, but it doesn't seem like the comedian has any intention of stopping until that happens.