“I’m bent out of shape for them,” Stewart said during an appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” referencing the victims and first responders who were injured or became ill because of the 9/11 attacks. “These are the first heroes and veterans and victims of the great trillions of dollars war on terror, and they’re currently still suffering and dying and in terrible need.”
Stewart added: “You would think that that would be enough to get Congress’s attention, but apparently it’s not.”
McConnell responded at his weekly news conference with reporters Tuesday at the Capitol.
“We’ve never left the 9/11 victims behind, and we won’t again,” he said.
In recent days, Stewart, a longtime supporter of congressional funding for health care for 9/11 victims and first responders, once again took up the cause on the Hill. The fund is set to stop taking claims in December 2020 unless it gets extended, The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett reported.
Last week, Stewart slammed members of Congress in an emotional testimony, skewering lawmakers for their “callous indifference,” telling them, “I’m angry, and you should be, too.” The legislation is expected to pass in the House, but its fate in the Senate is still murky.
On Sunday, Stewart turned his attention to McConnell, accusing the Republican senator of failing to deal with the issue “compassionately.”
“He has always held out until the very last minute, and only then, under intense lobbying and public shaming, has he even deigned to move on it,” Stewart told Fox News host Chris Wallace.
When asked about Stewart’s criticisms Monday morning while on “Fox & Friends,” McConnell hit back at the comedian. The Senate majority leader argued that “we have never failed to address this issue,” noting, “many things in Congress happen at the last minute.”
“There is no way we won’t address this problem appropriately,” McConnell said. “We have in the past. We will in the future.”
Rather than end the battle of words, McConnell’s pointed comments prompted the comedian to reunite with Stephen Colbert on Monday night. By early Tuesday, the nearly seven-minute clip had amassed more than 1.1 million views across Twitter and YouTube.
Colbert started by asking Stewart, “Are you bent out of shape?”
“No, Mitch McConnell, I am not bent out of shape, I’m in fine shape,” Stewart shouted. He then slightly amended his answer, admitting, “Well, I am out of shape. . . . I’m really more pizza crust than man.”
After Stewart griped that only a handful of lawmakers showed up to hear testimony from 9/11 survivors about their suffering and medical costs, Colbert played a clip of McConnell writing off that complaint, saying “that frequently happens because members have a lot of things going on at the same time.” McConnell added, “It sounds to me like he’s looking for some way to take offense.”
In response, a wide-eyed Stewart stared into the camera as the audience booed McConnell. “I feel like an a--hole,” Stewart said sheepishly, resting his head in his hands. “You know what, Stephen? Now I feel stupid. This is a huge misunderstanding. I didn’t know that they were busy.”
“I didn’t mean to interrupt them — with their jobs,” he said.
“Honestly Mitch McConnell, you really want to go with the ‘We’ll get to it when we get to it’ argument for the heroes of 9/11?” Stewart said, later condemning the senator for “saying you love the 9/11 community when they serve your political purposes.”
“But when they’re in urgent need, you slow-walk, you dither, you use it as a political pawn to get other things you want, and you don’t get the job done completely,” he said.
The 9/11 attacks hit close to home for the New York native, who said in 2001 that he could see the World Trade Center from his apartment in Lower Manhattan, The Post’s Meagan Flynn reported. He used “The Daily Show” to bring awareness to the attacks’ lasting effects on survivors and first responders.
On Monday night, Stewart took a brief break from excoriating the Kentucky Republican to offer him some advice.
“If you want to know why the 9/11 community is bent out of shape over these past, let’s call it 18 years, meet with them tomorrow, as soon as possible, and don’t make them beg for it,” he said, adding that McConnell could pass the funding measure as “a stand-alone bill tomorrow.”
But it only took a second for Stewart to reconsider his suggestion.
“You know what, if you’re busy, I get it,” he said. “Just understand 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 at the last minute with fewer people than you thought were going to pay attention and don’t actually put it out.”
Instead, he said, the hypothetical fire will be left “smoldering for another five years.”
“I’m sure they’ll put it out for good when they feel like getting around to it,” Stewart said. “No offense.”