Jon Stewart has slammed the “lies” and “hypocrisy” from GOP lawmakers Mitch McConnell and Pat Toomey after they blocked a landmark burn pits bill in the US Senate.
The TV host, who has been lobbying Congress to pass legislation to support veterans who are sick and dying from toxic exposure to burn pits, accused the Republicans of “abject cruelty” and said their refusal to pass the bill will cost lives.
“I’m used to the lies, I’m used to the hypocrisy, I’m used to the cowardice, I’m used to all of it, but I am not used to the cruelty,” he said at a tense press conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
“America’s heroes, who fought our wars, outside sweating their asses off, with oxygen battling all kinds of ailments, while these motherf***ers sit in the air conditioning walled off from any of it?
“They don’t have to hear it. They don’t have to see it. They don’t have to understand that these are human beings. Did you get it yet?”
Mr Stewart hit out at the senators who plan to go on a one-month recess from 5 August, likely leaving the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring our PACT Act languishing until at least September before another vote can be called.
The veterans who are sick and dying don’t have that time to wait, he said, as he branded the GOP lawmakers “cowards”.
“Now they say, ‘Well, this will get done. Maybe after we get back from our summer recess, maybe during the lame duck’ – because they’re on Senate time. Do you understand? You live around here? Senate time is ridiculous,” he said.
“These motherf***ers 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.”
“Well, they’re not on Senate time,” he said of the veterans. “They’re on human time. They’re on cancer time.”
“Don’t you have families?” he railed to the lawmakers.
Mr Stewart singled out Senators Toomey, McConnell and Rick Scott as he pointed out the hypocrisy of the lawmakers who claim they support veterans but voted against the PACT Act.
He read out one particular tweet posted by Mr Scott on Wednesday where the Florida Republican showcased photos of him giving out care packages to service men and women – the very same day he voted against the bill.
“I was honored to join @the_uso today and make care packages for our brave military members in gratitude of their sacrifice and service to our nation,” read the tweet.
Mr Stewart mocked the tweet saying “there’s a beautiful picture”.
“Did you get the package? I think it has some M&Ms in it and some cookies,” he mocked.
Jon Stewart blasted GOP lawmakers after they blocked the burn pits bill
He also impersonated Mr McConnell’s voice as he revealed that one month earlier he had told veterans “we’ll get it done”.
“Mitch McConnell yesterday flipped,” he said, referring to the senator’s sudden decision to vote no to the bill in Wednesday’s vote.
Mr Toomey, meanwhile, “won’t sit down” with the veterans he is impacting while he claims that he has the backing of several veterans groups.
“Pat Toomey claims that he has veteran groups behind him,” he said.
“I call bulls*** – these are the veteran groups,” he said gesturing around at the multiple veterans and representative from veterans groups who had gathered at the press conference to condemn the bill’s stalling.
“They’re all here. They don’t stand behind you in fact you won’t let them stand in front of you,” he said, branding Mr Toomey a “f***ing coward”.
US veteran Tim Houser, who developed conditions from his exposure to the burn pits, choked back tears as he said that the bill “gives them health care, gives them benefits, lets them live from become an addict, keeps veterans from committing suicide”.
Mr Stewart said that Mr Toomey wasn’t willing to listen to Mr Houser.
“Senator Toomey is not going to hear that because he won’t sit down with this man because he is a f***ing coward. You hear me?” he saud.
“None of them will hear it. And none of them will care.”
He added: “This is an embarrassment to the Senate, to the country and to the founders and to all that they confess to hold dear. If this is America first then this is America f***ed!”
Jon Stewart hugs Susan Zeier whos son-in-law died from toxic exposure to burn pits
On Wednesday, the PACT Act collapsed in the US Senate when dozens of Republicans unexpectedly changed their minds and decided to vote against it.
The bill received just 55 of the needed 60 votes to pass a cloture motion on Wednesday, as just eight Republicans voted to move it forward.
The sudden refusal to support the bill that will provide healthcare to thousands of sick veterans came as a surprise as 25 of the GOP lawmakers who voted against it had voted to pass the same bill just one month earlier.
Back on 16 June, senators voted 84 to 14 in favour of the bill, in a move that was celebrated by veterans, their families and advocates who have spent years battling for the US government to take the issue of burn pits seriously.
The vote meant it seemed certain that the bill would become law in a matter of weeks.
First it was sent back to the House for a final vote on the Senate’s amendments.
There, it passed with a 342-88 vote on 14 July.
Because of a minor technical fix the House made, the Senate was required to vote on it again before it could be sent to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
But – between one month and the next – dozens of Republican senators decided that they no longer supported expanding healthcare and disability access to US servicemembers and decided to change their vote.
Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Mr Toomey spoke out against the bill and said that he wanted to add an amendment on provisional spending.
Now, with the Senate scheduled to go on recess, thousands of veterans in desperate need of healthcare and disability benefits have now been left high and dry for even longer.
Veterans and advocates have condemned the GOP lawmakers now stopping veterans getting healthcare
Under the legislation, 23 cancers, respiratory illnesses and other conditions will now be presumptively linked to a veterans’ exposure to burn pits while on deployment overseas.
This means service men and women who have returned home from serving their country and developed one of these conditions will be given automatic access to healthcare and disability benefits.
It will also fund federal research on the impact of burn pits on the nation’s troops.
An estimated 3.5 million servicemembers and veterans are estimated to have been exposed to burn pits and airborne toxins while serving the US overseas, according to the Veterans Affairs (VA).
During America’s post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, huge open-air pits were used to burn mountains of trash including food packaging, human waste and military equipment on US military bases.
Thousands of US service members returned home from deployment and developed health conditions including rare cancers, lung conditions, respiratory illnesses and toxic brain injuries caused by breathing in the toxic fumes from the pits.
But, until now, the burden of proof has always been on veterans to prove their condition is directly caused by this toxic exposure.
In September 2020, a senior VA official testified before Congress that almost 80 percent of disability claims mentioning burn pits were rejected between 2007 and 2020.
In the last six months, the president has made tackling the issue of burn pits a higher priority and repeatedly urged lawmakers in the House and Senate to pass legislation to support veterans.
During his State of the Union address in March, said that he believes his son Beau Biden may have died as a result of toxic exposure to burn pits during his deployment to Iraq.