Jon Stewart rallies on Capitol Hill for 9/11 first responders bill

The best of Jon Stewart's final 'Daily Show'
The best of Jon Stewart's final 'Daily Show'

Jon Stewart had a warning for the men and women who have descended on Capitol Hill to lobby for a measure that would provide benefits to 9/11 first responders.

"Today, on the Hill, you will be exposed to possibly toxic levels of bull$@!& and arrogance," Stewart said during a Wednesday morning rally in Washington, D.C. "You're strong men and women, but these are conditions you may never have faced before."

It was a characteristic zinger from Stewart, but the former "Daily Show" host struck a mostly serious tone throughout the event.

Surrounded by firefighters, union officials and a bipartisan contingent of New York lawmakers that included Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Stewart was in the nation's capital to campaign for the renewal of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

The law, enacted in 2010, provides health care benefits to first responders afflicted with illness as a result of the attack. It is named for Zadroga, a New York City police officer who died of a respiratory disease in 2006 that was linked to his work at Ground Zero.

The law is set to expire at month's end. Failure to renew the bill could affect more than "33,000 responders and survivors who have at least one injury or illness caused by the attacks," according to the Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act.

jon stewart 911 rally

Sporting a navy New York City Fire Department T-shirt -- and a grayish beard he's grown in the month since stepping down as host of "The Daily Show" -- Stewart lamented that the measure faced any opposition at all.

"I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed for my country. I'm embarrassed for New York," Stewart said. "Nobody had to lobby you to rush to those towers on that day."

"So, I am sorry, and I apologize," he added. "And hopefully we'll never have to do this again."

As he entered the Senate Democratic caucus lunch in the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, Stewart defended the measure from detractors who contend that it's susceptible to fraud and abuse.

"It's shown to be a successful program. It's kept people alive. There hasn't been fraud, it's a finite amount of people," he said.

Stewart and the first responders got some good initial intel on Wednesday: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he expects the program to be renewed.

--CNN's Ted Barrett and Manu Raju contributed reporting.

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