July 24, 2019
Tuesday’s 97-2 vote in the Senate to extend permanent protections for 9/11 first responders came after many years of visits to Capitol Hill — more than 280 for John Feal alone, a former demolition specialist and responder from Long Island whose advocacy has helped bring a national conversation to the issue.
And minutes after the lopsided vote, Feal made sure to alert lawmakers that his days of tirelessly knocking down their doors are thankfully coming to a close.
“We’ll put down our swords,” he said on Capitol Hill, acknowledging the good-faith efforts that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell exhibited in recent months to get the bill a clean vote.
After all, during a recent trip to Washington, Feal came bearing a special memento for McConnell: the NYPD badge of Detective Luis Alvarez who died on June 29, a gesture that Jon Stewart recently told Cheddar he had hoped would secure passage of the measure.
McConnell’s commitment to Feal was widely noticed.
Jake Lemonda, the president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, told Cheddar, “When someone gives you their word, that’s their bond. I have so much respect. He stuck to his word. And I thank him.”
Republican Rep. Pete King added, “You have to give [McConnell] credit.” King was joined by his GOP colleague in the Senate Cory Gardner to gather support for the compensation fund from skeptical conservatives, although two Republicans — Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Senator Mike Lee of Utah — were on full blast Tuesday with their no votes.
“Trying to block this was inexcusable,” Rep. King told Cheddar about Paul and Lee.
There is a line that some New York Democrats like Rep. Carolyn Maloney and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler say about the immediate post-9/11 reality: that New Yorkers were told, as Maloney puts it, a “toxic lie” — that the air at Ground Zero was safe to breathe. (Former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman apologized in 2016 for her role in government-led misinformation in the fall of 2001.)
“Government told them to go back,” Maloney told Cheddar Tuesday on Capitol Hill. History] will show it was a "horrible, horrible judgment and horrible decision.”
But Tuesday was not the day for the sharpest of barbs, nor the most accusatory of finger-pointing. It was, instead, a day of muted celebration: a victory of a hard-fought battle that has come — and continues to come — with devastating consequences (members of Congress have indicated that 18 people have died in the past month alone from 9/11-related illnesses). And while the bill got its final push over the goal line from McConnell, a simple credo has united the advocacy efforts for so many others along the way. As Maloney told Cheddar Tuesday, “We promised we would never forget.”