WASHINGTON — The House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a bill ensuring that a victims compensation fund for the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money.
The 402-12 vote sends the bill to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to call a vote before Congress goes on its August recess.
Lawmakers from both parties hailed the House vote, which comes a month after comedian Jon Stewart sharply criticized Congress for failing to act. Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, told lawmakers at an emotional hearing that they were showing “disrespect” to first responders now suffering from respiratory ailments and other illnesses as a result of their recovery work at the former World Trade Center site in New York City.
Stewart called the sparse attendance at the June 11 hearing “an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution.” He later targeted McConnell for slow-walking previous version of the legislation and using it as a political pawn to get other things done.
Stewart said Friday that replenishing the victims fund was “necessary, urgent and morally right.”
Replenishing the fund will not fix the health problems of emergency workers and their families, but it would remove “a 15-year, unnecessary burden placed by their own government upon them,” Stewart said at a Capitol news conference.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers credited Stewart for raising the profile of the issue, which has lingered on Capitol Hill for years.
“You made it too hot to handle” in the Senate, Pelosi, D-Calif., told Stewart, praising him for shining his “celebrity spotlight” on the issue.
Eleven Republicans and independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan opposed the bill. No Democrat voted against the measure.
The bill would extend a victims compensation fund created after the 2001 terrorist attacks through 2092, essentially making it permanent. The $7.4 billion fund is rapidly being depleted, and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70%.
The Congressional Budget Office said in a report this week that the bill would result in about $10.2 billion in additional compensation payments over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for claims already filed. The bill would require that victims whose compensation payments were reduced because of the fund’s declining balance be made whole.
“This was not a hurricane or a flood or a tornado. This was the largest terrorist attack ever on American soil,” Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., said in a floor speech before the House vote. “As Jon Stewart testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee, these terrorists weren’t saying ‘Death to Tribeca’. This was an attack on all of us as Americans and we all should be voting yes today as Americans.”
Zeldin and other lawmakers noted that one of the bill’s most prominent advocates, former New York City police detective Luis Alvarez, did not live to see its passage. Alvarez, who testified with Stewart at last month’s House hearing, died June 29 at age 53.
Alvarez, who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2016, traced his illness to the three months he spent in the rubble of the World Trade Center’s twin towers after the attacks.
Alvarez “shouldn’t have had to come down here to fight on behalf of all of these other victims and first responders in the first place,” Zeldin said. “Month after month, year after year … how many first responders have made dozens of trips (to the Capitol) educating, advocating, passionately asking members of Congress for their support?”
The bill was renamed to honor Alvarez and other first responders.
McConnell said in a statement after the House vote that the Senate will take up the legislation soon.
“The first responders who rushed into danger on September 11th, 2001, are the very definition of American heroes and patriots,” he said. “The Senate has never forgotten the victim compensation fund and we aren’t about to start now.”
Top White House economic adviser says Trump still ‘looking at’ buying Greenland
Greenland has said it’s not for sale, but that didn’t stop top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow from adding fuel to the idea that the Trump administration wants to purchase the world’s largest island from Denmark.
Speaking with “Fox News Sunday,” Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, said the administration is “looking at” purchasing Greenland.
“It’s an interesting story,” Kudlow told host Dana Perino. “It’s developing. We’re looking at it. We don’t know.”
Kudlow noted that “years ago,” then-President Harry Truman sought to purchase the massive island off the Canadian coast.
“Denmark owns Greenland. Denmark is an ally,” Kudlow added. “Greenland is a strategic place up there and they’ve got a lot of valuable minerals. I don’t want to predict an outcome. I just know the president, who knows a thing or two about buying real estate, wants to take a look at a potential Greenland purchase.”
President Donald Trump’s interest in acquiring the 811,000-square-mile island in the North Atlantic was first reported last week by The Wall Street Journal. Citing sources familiar with the deliberations, the Journal reported that Trump has mentioned the idea with “varying degrees of seriousness.” NBC News confirmed the president’s interest in such an acquisition.
Trump is scheduled to visit Denmark next month in an unrelated appearance.
The island of roughly 56,000 people is rich in mineral resources and houses an American airbase. At least twice previously, in 1867 and 1946, the U.S. has tried to buy Greenland. Truman offered $100 million but Denmark turned down the offer.
Officials in Greenland strongly indicated there was no opportunity for such a deal to be made. Greenland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted that the island is “open for business, not for sale.”
Kim Kielsen, Greenland’s premier, also said in a statement that the island “is not for sale and cannot be sold, but Greenland is open for trade and cooperation with other countries — including the United States.”
Speaking to NBC News, Anna Kûitse Kúko, 63 and a lifelong resident of Greenland, said she believes islanders take the idea “as a sick joke by a crazy president.”
Trump snubs John McCain during bill signing intended to honor him
WASHINGTON — Congress wanted to honor the ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. President Donald Trump did not.
In extended remarks during a visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York to sign the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 — this year’s version of an annual bill that sets defense policy — Trump chose not to mention the former prisoner of war and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who is battling brain cancer. He even omitted McCain’s name when citing the title of the bill.
The two men have long been fierce critics of each other, with McCain calling Trump’s supporters “crazies” in 2015 and Trump retaliating by questioning whether McCain, who was subjected to torture in a Vietnamese prison camp, is really a “war hero” because “he was captured.”
The snub at Fort Drum, home to the combat aviation brigade of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, did not escape the notice of McCain’s allies.
“For those asking did I expect Trump to be an a—— today. No more than I expected it to be Monday,” Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime aide, wrote on Twitter.
McCain’s condition — dire enough that a recent HBO documentary on him was titled “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” — has not stopped Trump from deriding the Arizona senator at political rallies. Though Trump does not use his name, he tells crowds that he would have been able to repeal Obamacare if not for a thumbs-down sign from one senator — McCain.
The senator’s own statement included Trump’s name in the headline and in a preamble written by staff. But the words attributed to McCain did not.
“I’m very proud that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 has been signed into law,” he said.
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