In 2010, Stewart successfully helped shame Congress into passing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act by bringing a panel of first responders onto his Comedy Central program. The legislation, named after a New York police officer who worked at ground zero following 9/11 and later died of a respiratory disease, covered medical expenses for emergency workers thought to be sickened by their exposure to toxic substances during the recovery efforts.
Most of the act expired Oct. 1, and, much to Stewart's dismay, it has not yet been renewed despite the repeated efforts of many first responders.
“The only conclusion that I can draw is that the people of Congress are not as good a people as the people who are first responders," said Stewart, who retired from "The Daily Show" after 16 years in August and was sporting an off-duty gray beard and t-shirt.
As he told his successor, Trevor Noah, Stewart and a team of first responders visited Capitol Hill last week "to see if shame works." A pre-taped segment showed Stewart visiting the offices of Republican lawmakers such as Sens. Rand Paul, Rob Portman and Ron Johnson, where he was met with polite rejection.
He was able to corner Portman, "on his way from voting to make sure people on the terrorist watch list could still buy guns," as Stewart put it. Although the Ohio senator expressed concerns over paying for the bill, he voted later that night to reauthorize the Zadroga Act, Stewart explained. "So maybe shame does work," he said.
Back in the studio, Stewart gave Noah an update on the status of the bill, the fate of which, he said, now lies in the hands of "the two people who now control Congress," Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"I believe that when push comes to shove, Paul Ryan is going to do the right thing because ultimately he is still, uh, human," joked Stewart, who was less complimentary about McConnell.
"So far he has been an enormous obstacle, unwilling to move the bill forward for purely political reasons."
As evidence, Stewart cited McConnell's support for a bill compensating workers at a nuclear fuel plant in his home state of Kentucky.
He added that McConnell had removed the Zadroga renewal from a transportation bill because of a dispute over oil-export regulations.
"He used the health of 9/11 first responders as a bargaining chip to make it easier to sell oil?" Noah asked in feigned disbelief.
"Yes, Trevor," Stewart replied. "He's not nice."
Finally, Stewart decided to reconvene the panel of first responders whose appearance on "The Daily Show" helped get the Zadroga Act passed in 2010. The only problem? Only one of the original four panelists, retired firefighter Kenny Specht, was able to appear on the show.
Two of the first responders are now too sick and another, John Devlin, is dead, said Specht, who sat at a desk next to three empty chairs.
"It's unacceptable to tweet, to post on Facebook, around the anniversary of Sept. 11 that we'll never forget," said Specht. "It's inexplicable to get reelected off the back of the soldiers of this country and the first responders and then when you get a chance to do something about that to back away from it."
Noah and Stewart concluded by urging viewers to take up the cause on social media using the hashtag #worstresponders.
You can watch the entire episode here.
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