Jon Stewart Rages in D.C.: Vets Are Dying While Senate GOP Engages In 'F*ckery'
When lawmakers, military veterans, and their advocates gathered outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday morning, they were supposed to be celebrating.
On Wednesday, the Senate teed up final passage of long-awaited legislation, called the Honoring Our PACT Act, to expand health care for veterans who were exposed to toxins in the line of duty.
The bill had previously garnered overwhelming bipartisan support and was expected to pass easily. But when it came to the floor, 41 GOP senators—many of whom voted to advance the bill once already—revolted, voting down the bill and blocking its passage.
The planned celebration had turned into a grieving, angry rally. And no one was more pissed off than Jon Stewart.
The comedian and former host of The Daily Show has long been an advocate for veterans, and played a key role in amplifying their fight to secure better health care to veterans sick and dying because of their exposure to toxins.
Speaking to press outside the Senate on Thursday, Stewart laced into Republicans for blocking the bill. “How are these people human?” Stewart asked. “Where's any sense of decency, from any of them?”
The fact that veterans and their families were anticipating a victory they’d worked to secure for so long, said an emotional Stewart, “makes the gut punch that much more devastating.”
Stewart saved particular venom for Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)—who voiced the last-minute GOP reservations about a bill that many of them had already voted for—calling him a “coward.”
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It’s unclear exactly why Republicans abruptly reversed their positions on the bill, but the timing of the flip-flop provides the most obvious clue. Hours before the vote on Wednesday, Senate Democrats announced an agreement on a major economic and climate policy package.
Previously, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pledged to block a bipartisan technology investment bill if Democrats moved forward with their party-line package. When that tech bill passed earlier on Wednesday—hours before the agreement was announced—McConnell and the GOP seemed to be caught flat-footed.
A leading supporter of the PACT Act, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), told The Daily Beast he didn’t know if Senate Republicans blocked the legislation in retaliation or to maintain some leverage. “If they did, it’s a stupid reason,” Tester said.
In a separate press conference, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the key swing Democrat who brokered the deal with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), was more blunt. “Republicans now are basically holding the veterans hostage because they're mad,” Manchin said.
A fuming Stewart said that veterans put their lives on the line to “defend [senators’] right to this fuckery.”
At the press conference afterward, Democratic lawmaker after lawmaker pledged to not leave for the Senate’s summer recess until passing the legislation.
What is not an option for lawmakers, Stewart said, is to fall into the Capitol Hill rhythm of procrastinating on important bills when it’s easier to pass them.
“Senate time is ridiculous. These motherfuckers live to 200. They're tortoises. They live forever and they never lose their jobs and they never lose their benefits and they never lose all those things,” Stewart said.
Veterans, Stewart continued, don’t have time. “Their time is precious…. Every minute of delay is a minute that a veteran who fought for this country and their families and their caregivers suffer and die,” he said.
“Tell their cancer to take a recess,” he said, adding one more line before he walked away from the cameras: “If this is America First, America is fucked.”
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