Jul 28, 2022
Liberal comedian Jon Stewart chastised the GOP on Thursday, less than 24 hours after Senate Republicans tanked a bill that would have expanded healthcare access for U.S. military veterans exposed to Agent Orange and toxic burn pits--a move that was made in retaliation for Democrats reviving their reconciliation package following the passage of bipartisan legislation designed to boost domestic semiconductor chip manufacturing.
"Fuck the Republican caucus and their empty promise to our veterans."
"Everyone needs to watch this," progressive commentator Krystal Ball tweeted, sharing a clip of Stewart, who has lobbied for improved assistance for veterans harmed by toxins, speaking in Washington, D.C. "Republicans are literally blocking care for veterans poisoned by burn pits as part of their temper tantrum over a deal to tax corporations and create clean energy jobs."
Speaking at a Capitol Hill press conference held in the wake of the GOP's refusal to advance the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, Stewart told the crowd: "I'm used to the hypocrisy... I'm used to the lies... I'm used to the cowardice... I'm used to all of it, but I am not used to the cruelty."
"These motherfuckers," said Stewart, referring to U.S. senators, "don't support the troops, [they] support the war machine."
"They haven't met a war they won't sign up for, and they haven't met a veteran they won't screw over," added the former host of The Daily Show, who now has a program on Apple TV+.
Republican opposition to the PACT Act is "an embarrassment," Stewart continued. "And if this is America First, then America is fucked."
\u201c.@JonStewart: "I'm used to the hypocrisy\u2026I'm used to the lies...I'm used to the cowardice...I'm used to all of it, but I am not used to the cruelty." #PACTAct \n\n(WARNING: profanity)\u201d— CSPAN (@CSPAN) 1659023517
A version of the PACT Act easily passed the Senate 84-14 last month. It was overwhelmingly approved by House lawmakers 342-88 two weeks ago, but because of a small technical fix made in the lower chamber, the upper chamber was required to vote on the measure again before it could be sent to President Joe Biden's desk to be signed into law.
Instead, the latest iteration of the bill was defeated 55-42 in the Senate, with 41 Republicans in opposition.
The 25 GOP lawmakers who switched their votes on Wednesday are "stab-vets-in-the-back senators," Stewart tweeted Wednesday.
"Fuck the Republican caucus and their empty promise to our veterans," he added.
The GOP torpedoed the burn pit legislation after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced a surprise deal on a filibuster-proof economic and climate package just hours after several Republicans joined Democrats to pass the CHIPS Act--a bill that seeks to bolster the domestic production of semiconductor chips but has been criticized by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and others as a massive "corporate giveaway."
Previously, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had vowed to kill the CHIPS Act unless Democrats abandoned their reconciliation bill. The filibuster-proof economic and climate package looked dead in the water prior to the CHIPS Act vote, but Schumer and Manchin quickly brought it back to life afterward, infuriating McConnell and dozens of other far-right members of Congress.
Schumer was the lone Democrat to vote against the PACT Act on Wednesday. As C-SPAN's Craig Caplan explained, "Schumer switched his vote from 'yes' to 'no' and entered a motion to reconsider the failed cloture vote," which allows him to bring the bill to the floor at a later date.
According to "PBS NewsHour Weekend" anchor Geoff Bennett, Schumer said the Senate will vote again on the PACT Act on Monday.
\u201cSen. Schumer says the Senate will vote again on Monday on the PACT Act -- the bill to provide healthcare to veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. Republicans are accused of voting against the bill in retaliation for Democrats' deal on climate, taxes and healthcare.\u201d— Geoff Bennett (@Geoff Bennett) 1659039646
Stewart was far from alone in expressing outrage over McConnell and his fellow party members' last-minute decision to sabotage the bill.
"Republicans chose today to rob generations of toxic-exposed veterans of the healthcare and benefits they so desperately need--and make no mistake, more veterans will suffer and die as a result," Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said Wednesday in a statement criticizing the GOP's "eleventh-hour act of cowardice."
At Thursday's press conference, much of the blame for the failed vote was placed on Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who "used a floor speech Tuesday night to urge his fellow Republicans to join him in blocking the bill because of its potential for allowing more discretionary spending than would otherwise be permitted under budget caps," Roll Callreported.
"Sen. Toomey, how many veterans are going to die because of you?" asked Rosie Torres, co-founder of BurnPits360 and the wife of veteran Le Roy Torres, who suffers from a rare terminal condition caused by burn pits. "Please explain to us: what is an acceptable amount of deaths?"
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, shouted, "This is total bullshit."
Republicans, she added, "have just sentenced veterans to death."
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