Jon Stewart ripped Rick Scott’s hypocrisy, and it worked. Too bad that’s what it took | Editorial

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Jon Stewart’s fury toward Florida Sen. Rick Scott was palpable — and deserved.

Last week, Republican senators, in apparent retaliation against Democrats for reaching a deal on an unrelated massive climate and economic bill, flipped their votes and blocked passage of legislation to help veterans exposed to toxins from burn pits during military service, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There were 25 Republican senators who changed sides on the PACT Act, Scott among them. All of them had voted for the same bill the previous month. And they changed sides less than an hour after the Democratic deal on climate and taxes was announced.

It was the kind of move that, rightfully, earns politicians people’s contempt.

But it was Scott and a comment he tweeted that drew some of the greatest scorn from Stewart.

Just prior to the vote, Scott tweeted out a photo of himself making care packages for service members, along with words of gratitude for the military’s “sacrifice and service to our nation” — and then voted against the bill designed to aid veterans fighting diseases they believe are linked to their service.

It’s ‘cowardice’

During a nine-minute rant that went viral online, Stewart, an entertainer and activist, ripped him for it.

“And there’s a beautiful picture — I wish you could see it — he’s standing with a little package,” Stewart said to reporters, in a voice dripping with scorn as he stood before the Capitol after the vote.

He turned to the bill’s supporters behind him: “Did you get the package? I think it has M&Ms in it, and some cookies, and some moist towelettes. I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know what to say, I’ve been coming down here 10-15 years. . . . I’m used to the lies. I’m used to the hypocrisy. . . . I’m used to the cowardice.”

Then he added: “I’m used to all of it, but I am not used to the cruelty.”

Republicans tried to say that blocking the bill was about a dispute over which portion of the federal budget would fund $280 billion in spending over 10 years on veterans health programs, and that Democrats were trying to slip something over on the people.

In the end, that didn’t hold up to reality. Republicans folded. On Tuesday, the bill passed, 86-11. Nothing in it was changed. Scott voted for it.

Florida’s other Republican senator, Marco Rubio — who is up for reelection in November — voted for the bill every time. The PACT Act includes key portions of a veterans healthcare bill he and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, introduced last year on burn pits and toxins.

Another tweet

We reached out to Scott’s office to ask him about his flip-flopping votes — for and against and then for the bill — but we were directed to, yes, one of the senator’s tweets: “Our veterans sacrifice so much to protect our freedoms and keep us safe. I was proud to vote for the PACT Act today which provides critical funding & support for those exposed to toxic environments, like burn pits, during service.”

Not an explanation, just a glossing over.

Scott is a veteran himself. He joined the Navy in 1970. Absent his actual explanation, we’ll give him the benefit of assuming he genuinely believes that military veterans deserve the care this bill will offer. But Stewart’s broadside was justified. It exposed the kind of sanctimonious double-dealing that could make anyone question an elected official’s values.

The Senate finally passed the bill. That’s great. Veterans who put their lives on the line for all of us shouldn’t have to wonder if they’ll get the healthcare they need.

But, Sen. Scott, you shouldn’t have made it this hard.