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Mitch McConnell to meet with 9/11 first responders after blistering Capitol Hill testimony

9/11 first responder gives interview from hospice
"As long as God gives me the time, I'll be here, advocating," says 9/11 first responder fighting for funds 07:03

After previously claiming former Daily Show host Jon Stewart was "all bent out of shape" about the need to reauthorize the  9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to be changing his tune. The top Senate Republican is now slated to meet face-to-face with members of the first responders community to discuss the need to provide vital health care benefits to those who saved thousands during the attacks on September 11, 2001. 

John Feal, a 9/11 recovery worker and the founder of the FealGood Foundation, confirmed to CBS News that McConnell has agreed to meet with a group of first responders to discuss the need to reauthorize the legislation first established nine years ago to help those with illnesses related to the 2001 terror attacks. The legislation has been brought back to the forefront after Stewart delivered a blistering rebuke of Congressional inaction on the measure just as the fund is running short of money.

Asked what he had hoped to accomplish with the meeting, Feal told CBS News: "To let him know we want our legislation refunded and extended in the near future and to sense our urgency and then be left alone." He later said, "So he is either on board or he gets a street fight."

Feal was present for Stewart's testimony earlier this month, during which Stewart at times broke down in tears, shouting at the lawmakers and calling them "shameful." 

"I can't help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is ... a filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one ... shameful," said Stewart. 

Feal, who was a construction supervisor at Ground Zero and had part of his foot amputated after a steel beam fell on him at the site of the rubble, had consoled Stewart at the emotional hearing, telling the comedian that members of Congress had "disrespected" the lives of first responders with their lack of interest in funding the measure. 

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: FealGood Foundation co-founder John Feal hugs former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC.  / Getty Images

Stewart had put McConnell on notice about his failure to take up any legislation after remarking that the comedian was "looking for some way to take offense" on the issue, which Stewart has spent years fighting for.

"We have never failed to address this issue, and we will address it again," McConnell saidon "Fox & Friends."  Stewart fired back during an appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." 

"No, Mitch McConnell, I am not bent out of shape!" he said. "I'm bent out of shape for them. These are the first heroes and veterans and victims of the great trillions of dollars war on terror. And they're currently still suffering and dying and in terrible need. You would think that would be enough to get Congress' attention? But apparently, it's not." 

In a statement ahead of the planned meeting, McConnell's senate colleague Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement, "These brave warriors, who rushed to the towers on and after 9/11, and their families have waited long enough."

Schumer added, "By the end of Senator Mitch McConnell's meeting with these first responders tomorrow, he should commit to put the bill on the floor for a stand-alone vote immediately following House passage. We cannot tolerate any more delay."

It's an issue that President Trump has also suggested he would consider. He told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that he was impressed with Stewart's emotional plea. 

"I liked what Jon Stewart did. I actually did. And I actually have a meeting on that subject next week. So we'll see what happens," Mr. Trump said.

Feal told CBS the meeting is expected to take place on Tuesday at 4:00 pm. A request for comment from McConnell's office on the meeting has not yet been returned. 

Gillian Morely contributed to this report. 

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