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Jon Stewart says 9/11 first responders fund is the ‘least’ lawmakers can do ‘for the best of us’ after bill’s passage

(CNN) — Comedian Jon Stewart said the passage of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund extension on Tuesday is “the least you can do for the best of us.”

In an interview shortly after Congress approved the fund’s extension, Stewart and John Feal, one of the 9/11 first responders who advocated for the bill’s passage, expressed relief, saying it will provide financial help to thousands of victims.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill by a vote of 97-2 to fund the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund for decades, permanently compensating individuals who were injured during the 2001 terrorist attacks or the cleanup and rescue efforts. The bill had passed the House earlier this month, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it.

“I cried. Yeah, I cried, I’m a crier,” Feal told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota in an exclusive interview on on Capitol Hill. “But to know that tens of thousands of people are going to get help now and that financial relief.”

Stewart, who who has been a vocal advocate of the getting the bill passed before rewards diminished and the fund expired in 2020, heralded the first responders he advocated for.

“Those who had sacrificed everything to save our sorry asses on 9/11. And if we can’t help them, honestly what chance do the rest of us have?” he said.

“Having experienced 9/11 in lower Manhattan, having lived down there. Having seen what the first responder community, what the survivor community, what the volunteer community — what they gave to the city during that incredibly chaotic and frightening time was irreplaceable,” Stewart said.

Feal said the bill would be signed by Trump at the White House on Friday, which sources with knowledge of the planning also told CNN Tuesday.

In the face of dwindling resources and a surge in claims, the fund’s administrator announced in February that it would need to significantly reduce its awards. The original fund from 2001 to 2004 distributed over $7 billion to compensate the families of over 2,880 people who died on 9/11 and 2,680 individuals who were injured, according to the Justice Department. In 2011, Congress reactivated the fund and in 2015 reauthorized it for another five years, appropriating $7.4 billion to aid thousands more people. The fund was set to stop taking new claims in December 2020.

The new bill would extend the expiration date through 2090 and cost what is deemed necessary. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it will cost about $10 billion over the next decade.

Feal said in the interview that he was thankful to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for meeting with him and other first responders in late June to discuss the Senate’s vote on the bill.

“Mitch McConnell is a human being and I thank him for that. And while we’re never going to agree on our politics, Mitch McConnell was honest and straightforward after that meeting that we had with my team. I thank the Senate majority leader,” he said.

On Tuesday, Stewart, who has in the past been sharply critical of McConnell, nearly played a joke on the Kentucky Republican when he walked by the comedian in a hallway in the Capitol.

As McConnell walked by Stewart in silence, Stewart stared at him with a grin, saying later that he was considering doing the “down low, too slow” high-five to the senator, but chose not to do it.

The bill’s passage comes nearly a week after Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, delayed its passage, arguing that Congress needed to offset its cost by cutting government spending elsewhere. Paul and Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, were the only senators to vote against it on Tuesday.

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