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Opinion Jon Stewart shows Democrats how to respond to GOP cruelty

Jon Stewart speaks to members of the news media on Capitol Hill on July 28. (Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
3 min

Senate Republicans last week provided Americans with a vivid example of their party’s abject cruelty when they rejected the PACT Act, which would provide veterans with benefits to cover the health consequences they endured from exposure to burn pits while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. They did so even though many of those same Republicans approved a nearly identical bill in June.

For a tutorial on how to respond to the lies and heartlessness Republicans have shown here, Democrats should turn to an unlikely source: comedian Jon Stewart.

The GOP’s reversal on the bill seems to be motivated by payback. Republicans voted against the PACT Act because they were angry over the agreement between Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the Inflation Reduction Act, the reconciliation package that includes tax hikes on the wealthy, subsidies for Affordable Care Act coverage and investment in green energy. The deal was announced just hours after the Senate passed its bipartisan bill to enhance national security and U.S. competitiveness against China by investing in semiconductor manufacturing.

Jon Stewart joined Democratic lawmakers in the District on July 28 after Senate Republicans blocked a new plan to help millions of veterans. (Video: The Washington Post)

In other words, Republicans threw a temper tantrum because they would no longer be able to hold the semiconductor bill hostage to block passage of the Democrats’ popular agenda. Think about that for a second. Republicans took their frustrations with Democrats out on sick veterans. That’ll show them!

In the days since the GOP stalled the bill, Stewart was unflinching. He went in front of cameras on Thursday to express what many Americans were feeling. Regarding Republicans’ about-face on the bill, Stewart said he was used to the “hypocrisy," “lies” and “cowardice” of politicians, but “I am not used to the cruelty.”

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) offered a patently false excuse that the bill would create “pork.” In fact, the funds are delineated for a specific purpose. As Stewart tweeted: “The PACT Act is a stand alone bill. The PACT Act has no spending unrelated to Veteran’s Health and Benefits. There is no ‘Pork.’ There is no budget maneuver that then allows Dems to backfill [with] whatever they want.”

Stewart, appearing on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, kept up the barrage:

Republicans will likely come crawling back to approve the bill now that they have been exposed as deceitful, malicious and petulant. But Democrats should learn from Stewart and apply his techniques in other contexts.

In the abortion realm, Democrats should be clear. It is the height of dishonesty to say that abortion bans, which would endanger women’s health and lives, are “pro-life.” And it is simply untrue that these bills are about preventing abortions moments before delivery, as so many Republicans claim. The Supreme Court under Roe v. Wade allowed states to ban third-trimester abortions. All but a handful already did before the Dobbs decision. One percent of abortions occur after 21 weeks and far fewer in the third trimester. It is a lie to say abortion causes women emotional distress or physical injury or that abortion is dangerous.

And it is cruel and barbaric to demand that a teen rape victim endure pregnancy and labor or to demand a woman with chronic health conditions risk pregnancy. Only monsters would insist that doctors wait until women are so sick that they might die before they can receive appropriate medical treatment, which includes abortions.

Stewart is a gifted communicator. His basic approach — righteous anger, blunt language, mastery of the facts, determination to call out the GOP’s bad faith — is something all Democrats should follow, whether the topic is veterans’ health, abortion, the Jan. 6 insurrection, guns, climate change or just about anything else. Enough is enough.