President Trump on Monday signed into law a permanent extension of the 9/11 victims’ compensation fund, ensuring that the money provided to victims of the 2001 terror attacks never runs out.
Congress approved the additional funding after weeks of intense lobbying by 9/11 first responders, one of whom died shortly after testifying before lawmakers, and by comedian Jon Stewart, among others.
The $7.4-billion September 11 Victim Compensation Fund was severely depleted, and administrators had recently cut benefit payments by up to 70%. The new legislation authorizes funding through the year 2092, effectively making it permanent.
“Today we come together as one nation to support our Sept. 11 heroes and to care for their families … and to renew our eternal vow, never ever forget,” Trump said before signing the bill.
Trump praised the first responders, more than 60 of whom attended Monday’s Rose Garden ceremony.
“Over the last two decades, you have endured hardship with amazing grace and incredible grit,” he said.
But despite the president’s unifying rhetoric, the ceremony itself was a picture of the country’s partisan divide. Not a single Democratic lawmaker attended the ceremony, including the bill’s biggest champions.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the bill’s author who advocated for the legislation for months by wearing a New York firefighter’s jacket on Capitol Hill and even to the Met Gala in May, was not invited to the White House bill signing, her spokesperson confirmed.
New York’s two Democratic senators, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, received invitations to the signing ceremony but not until 12:25 a.m. Saturday morning, leaving them little time to scramble their schedules in order to attend. Gillibrand, a presidential candidate, is preparing for this week’s Democratic debate in Detroit.
A White House official said that all members of Congress were invited to attend, but did not elaborate on the timing of the invitations or whether any other officials from New York, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo or New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, both of whom the president has attacked at times on Twitter, were invited to attend.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), Maloney’s co-sponsor on the bill, did attend the event, along with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was widely praised for his response in the aftermath of the September 2001 terror attacks.
“Rudy has a lot of guts,” Trump said.
While praising the courage of first responders and explaining the impact of the additional funding on those who have been struggling with health problems in the years after the attacks, Trump diverted from his prepared remarks to suggest — without providing evidence or elaboration — that he was part of the 9/11 response.
“Many of those affected were firefighters, police officers and other first responders,” Trump said. “And I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder. But I was down there. I spent a lot of time down there with you.”
On the afternoon of the attacks, Trump called into a WWOR radio broadcast in New York City and described watching the attack from Trump Tower and famously noted that, with the collapse of the Twin Towers, a building he owned in Lower Manhattan was now the tallest building in the area.
In a statement, Gillibrand focused not on the signing ceremony but the legislation itself, praising Trump for signing the bill promptly. “Because this bill is finally the law of the land, our 9/11 first responders, survivors, and their families can finally have some peace of mind as they continue to fight through their illnesses linked to the 9/11 attacks,” she said.