Updated at 3:11 p.m. EST
Comedian Jon Stewart slammed representatives on Tuesday at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, saying it was "shameful" that more of them did not attend.
"As I sit here today, I can't help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to," Stewart said in his statement. "Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders; and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress."
Rep. Steve Cohen noted that the hearing was held before the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties and not the full committee.
"All these empty chairs, that's because it's for the full committee. It's not because of disrespect or lack of attention to you," the Tennessee Democrat said.
The hearing came just hours before the full House was set to vote on a civil contempt resolution against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn.
Stewart spoke alongside Luis Alvarez, a retired detective and 9/11 responder from the New York Police Department who has cancer linked to the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath.
"Less than 24 hours from now, I will be serving my 69th round of chemotherapy," Alvarez said. "I should not be here with you, but you made me come. You made me come because I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11, like me, are valued less than anyone else."
The fund has faced recent financial problems, including a spike in the number of claims ahead of its December 2020 expiration date.
In February, the fund's administrator, Rupa Bhattacharyya, announced there was "insufficient funding" to "pay all current and projected claims at the same levels as under current policies and procedures" and said future claims would only be paid a fraction of their prior value.
Local, state and federal officials have rallied around the Never Forget the Heroes Act, which would provide funding for the victim fund through fiscal year 2090. The bill was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., in October 2018, and reintroduced this year, but has since languished in the House.
When asked about the legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY., sidestepped the issue, saying he would have to look at the bill.
Stewart, the former host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, lambasted lawmakers for not showing up to the hearing, calling it "a stain on this institution."
"You should be ashamed of yourselves, for those that aren't here," he said. "But you won't be, because accountability doesn't appear to be something that occurs in this chamber."
Later in the hearing, subcommittee Chairman Cohen defended lawmakers' attendance.
"My subcommittee, every single member on my side, which is eight of us, have been here today," Cohen said, adding that other committee members were present in other committee meetings or visiting with constituents.
Stewart has been a longtime advocate for Sept. 11 victims and first responders, frequently appearing on Capitol Hill to push lawmakers to increase funding to aid those who suffered illnesses following the attacks.