delivered 11 June 2019, Washington, D.C.
[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]
I want to thank Mr. Collins and Mr. Nadler for putting this together. But, as I sit here today, I canít help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to.
Behind me: 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.
It's an embarrassment to the country.
And it is a stain on this institution.
And you should be ashamed of yourselves for those that aren't here, but you won't be because accountability doesn't appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.
We don't want to be here. Lu [Detective Luis Alvarez] doesn't want to be here. None of these people want to be here. But they are, and they're not here for themselves. They're here to continue fighting for what's right. Lu's going to go back for his 69th chemo. The great Ray Pfeiffer would come down here, his body riddled with cancer and pain, where he couldn't walk; and the disrespect shown to him and to the other lobbyists on this bill is utterly unacceptable.
You know, I used to get...I would be so angry at the latest injustice that's done to these men and women and, you know, another business card thrown our way as a way of shooing us away like children trick-or-treating, rather than the heroes that they are and will always be.
Ray would stay, "Calm down, Johnny. Calm down." "I got all the cards I need." And he would tap his pocket...where he kept the prayer cards of 343 firefighters. The official FDNY response time to 911 was five seconds. Five seconds! That's how long it took for FDNY, for NYPD, for Port Authority, for EMS to respond to an urgent need from the public.
Hundreds died in an instant. Thousands more poured in to continue to fight for their brothers and sisters.
The breathing problems started almost immediately. And they were told they weren't sick -- they were crazy. And then, as the illnesses got worse and things became more apparent, "Well, okay, you're sick but it's not from the pile." And then, when the science became irrefutable, "Okay, it's the pile -- but this is a New York issue." I don't know if we "have the money."
And I'm sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic, but I'm angry -- and you should be too; and they're all angry as well. And they have every justification to be that way. There is not a person here, there is not an empty chair on that stage that didn't tweet out, "Never forget" the heroes of 9/11; never forget their bravery; never forget what they did, what they gave to this country.
Well here they are! And where are they? And it would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy were benign. But it's not. Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It's the one thing they're running out of.
This should be flipped -- this hearing should be flipped: These men and women should be up on that stage and Congress should be down here answering their questions as to why this is so damn hard and takes so damn long; and why, no matter what they get, something's always pulled back. And they gotta come back.
Mr. Johnson [Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Rep. Georgia], you...made a point earlier and it was one that we have heard over and over again in these halls. And I...couldn't help but to answer to it, which was -- you said, "Look, you know, you guys are obviously heroes and 9/11 was a big deal but, you know, we have a lot of stuff here to do. And, you know, we got to make sure there's money for a variety of disasters, hurricanes and tornadoes."
But this wasn't a hurricane. And this wasn't a tornado. And by the way, that's your job, anyway. We can't fund these programs -- you can. Setting aside that no American in this country should face financial ruin because of a...health issue, certainly 9/11 first responders shouldn't have to decide whether to live or to have a place to live.
And the idea that you can only give them five more years of the VCF [be]cause you're not quite sure what's going to happen five years from now -- well, I can tell you I'm pretty sure what's going to happen five years from now: More of these men and women are going to get sick and they are going to die. And I am awfully tired of hearing that it's a...9/11 New York issue. Al-Qaeda didn't shout "death to Tribeca."
They attacked America, and these men and women, and their response to it, is what brought our country back. It's what gave a reeling nation a solid foundation to stand back upon, to remind us of why this country is great, of why this country is worth fighting for. And you are ignoring them!
And you can end it tomorrow. Why this bill isn't unanimous consent and a standalone issue is beyond my comprehension. And I have yet to hear a reasonable explanation for why. It'll get stuck in some transportation bill or some appropriations bill and get sent over to the Senate, where a certain someone from the Senate will use it as a political football to get themselves maybe another new import tax on petroleum -- [be]cause that's what happened to us in 2015.
And we won't allow it to happen again.
Thank God for people like John Feal.
Thank God for people like Ray Pfeiffer.
Thank God for all of these people who will not let it happen.
They responded in five seconds. They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility.
Eighteen years later -- do yours!
Audio Note: AR-XE = American Rhetoric Extreme Enhancement
Video Note: Audio enhanced video by Michael E. Eidenmuller for AmericanRhetoric.com
Page Created: 6/11/19
U.S. Copyright Status: Text, Audio, Video = Public domain. Image = Fair Use.