Politics & Government

Rand Paul ramps up 9/11 dispute with Jon Stewart, calling him a ‘guttersnipe’

Sen. Rand Paul escalated a fight with Jon Stewart Thursday, saying the former TV show host didn’t have his facts straight when he lambasted the Kentucky Republican for blocking speedy passage on a bill to provide health care to 9/11 first responders.

The blast at Stewart — calling him a “guttersnipe” on Fox News — came hours after supporters of the legislation announced that the legislation will come to the floor for a vote on Tuesday — along with a proposal by Paul to slash federal funding to pay for the measure.

“His name calling just sort of exposes him as a left-winger, part of the left wing mob (who) really isn’t using his brain,” Paul said of Stewart, the former Daily Show host who went on Fox News Wednesday to call it “absolutely outrageous” for Paul to hold up the legislation.

Paul said he’s consistently voted against spending bills and in this case was only insisting that the bill be accompanied by spending cuts elsewhere.

“The B.S. meter is through the roof,” Paul said. “I’m asking for something very reasonable.”

Paul had irked Sept. 11 first responders by blocking speedy passage of the legislation in the Senate on Wednesday, but an agreement forged Thursday means a vote as soon as Tuesday. Supporters said they have 75 co-sponsors for the legislation and expect it to pass easily.

“It’s welcome news for every first 911 first responder, every family member of a first responder,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, the chief sponsor of the legislation. “There are no more excuses.”

She urged her colleagues to reject amendments by Paul and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, which she labeled as “needless and callous.” Paul himself told Fox his amendment is likely to fail because “there are only about 15 people in the Senate who care about the deficit.”

Paul blocked the Senate from taking up the measure on Wednesday, citing worries about the national debt and the cost of the legislation. That earned him a sharp rebuke from Stewart, who charged that Paul had not raised such fiscal concerns when he voted for President Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut.

Paul said that, too, was wrong, that he tried to cut spending when the tax bill passed, but the provision was removed. “The left wing mob doesn’t care about the truth,” he said. “Jon Stewart doesn’t care about the truth, it’s all about ‘me, me, me Jon Stewart. Look at me, I’m on TV.’ “

Gillibrand said Paul’s amendment on the 9/11 legislation would “cut every other government program,” including affordable housing programs and Head Start.

“Every time we have an amendment like this, you’re being asked to make a choice and these men and women deserve to be fully funded,” she said.

Paul earlier declined reporters’ questions on Thursday.

Lee, on the Senate floor, said he “wholeheartedly” supported providing health care to those who responded to the scenes of the 9/11 attacks. But he questioned why the program is authorized for 72 years.

“In Washington, this is a recipe for trouble,” he said.

Gillibrand said the health care fund would be authorized for 72 years so that first reponders will not have to return to Congress to lobby for the money again.

“To watch someone come to the Capitol with an oxygen tank, with a wheelchair ... is something I can not accept.” she said.

Before Paul slowed passage of the legislation, first responders had targeted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and they emerged last month at the Capitol with a promise from the Kentucky Republican to hold a vote on the floor before the Senate leaves town for its August recess.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said Thursday that McConnell had agreed to put the legislation on the fast track “and that sent a signal to Lee and to Paul that this was going to happen with or without their amendments.”

Lee said he’d support a vote this week but Schumer said supporters want to make sure they have the votes to kill the amendments, noting that a number of senators had already left Washington for the weekend.

Schumer said he expects President Donald Trump to sign the legislation and noted that supporters have a veto-proof majority if he does not.

Both praised Stewart for shepherding the bill through Congress. “His advocacy made an extraordinary difference,” she said.