President Trump signed into law permanent health care compensation for 9/11 first responders Monday, ending a controversy over paying for illness linked to time spent in the remains of the destroyed World Trade Center.
He signed a bipartisan bill at a Rose Garden ceremony that Rudy Giuliani, his former lawyer and the New York City mayor at the time, also attended.
‘You inspire all of humanity,’ Trump said of the ‘true American warriors’ who rushed to assist victims that day and searched for remains for months after.
Then he put himself in the narrative, saying: ‘I was down there, also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder.
‘But I was down there. I spent a lot of time down there with you.’
It is unclear if Trump ever visited Ground Zero itself, and there were calls on social media for him to ‘prove’ he was there. He does own property on Wall Street close to the site of the Twin Towers.
In the Rose Garden the president said that the nation has a ‘sacred obligation’ to care for the responders and their families.
The $7.4 billion fund had been rapidly depleting and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70 percent.
The bill passed Congress on a bipartisan basis but only after delays by some Republicans exposed the legislative branch to brutal criticism from activists, including the comedian Jon Stewart.
Dozens of first responders, many gravely ill, would repeatedly travel to Washington to lobby lawmakers to extend the funding every time it needed to be reauthorized.
Though their ranks shrunk, as emergency workers died of cancers and other diseases linked to the toxic fumes from the World Trade Center rubble, the fate of the funding had never been permanently guaranteed.
The full act, H.R. 1327, is called Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act, in recognition of those who gave evidence but died before it became law.
Alvarez died shortly after giving evidence with Stewart in a fiery session which saw the comedian excoriate lawmakers for not acting to make compensation permanent.
Alvarez, a NYPD detective, appeared gaunt and ill when he testified before Congress last month, urging lawmakers to pass the measure to help his fellow first responders even if it were too late for him.
‘You made me come down here the day before my 69th round of chemo and I’m going to make sure that you never forget to take care of the 9/11 first responders,’ Alvarez said.
He died two weeks later.
More than 40,000 people have applied to the fund, which covers illnesses potentially related to being at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the attacks. Stewart, who made the cause a personal passion project, tore into the lawmakers’ inaction when he testified alongside Alvarez, creating a moment that was frequently replayed on cable news.
‘Hundreds died in an instant. Thousands more poured in to continue to fight for their brothers and sisters,’ Stewart said before the committee. ‘They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. Eighteen years later, do yours.’
A pair of Republican senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Arkansas, voted against the measure this month, preventing its adoption from being unanimous. Both cited the need to eliminate unnecessary spending and offset the measure with budget cuts.
The new law means the fund is in place until 2092. It was passed overwhelmingly last week in the Senate after being voted through the House.
Trump did not dwell on that division when he signed the bill, prompted a round of applause from first responders in the Rose Garden as well as his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor of New York City during the attacks and was widely praised for his leadership in the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse.
At the reception Trump called Giuliani, who’s been known as ‘America’s Mayor’ since the horrific attack at Ground Zero, the nation’s ‘greatest mayor’ during the event where he noted that he visited the site himself just after the horrific terror attack.
The president calls New York City home, having been born and raised there. He has talked numerous times in the past about the terror attack that brought down the Twin Towers.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack he said that his Trump office building at 40 Wall Street had become the tallest building in the south of Manhattan, which was not true.
He spoke to a crowd of mostly first responders as he signed the bill on Monday in the Rose Garden at the event that New York Republican Peter King attended.
No Democratic lawmakers were at the event, according to a guest list the White House distributed to reporters. Both of New York’s senators are Democrats.
Jon Stewart, the former host of the Daily Show who helped spearhead the push to make the fund permanent, was not at the White House, either.
A spokesperson for New York Senator Chuck Schumer told DailyMail.com: ‘We received invitation from the White House at 12:25AM on Saturday 7/27 but already had a long standing commitment in upstate New York.’
DailyMail.com did not immediately hear back from the office of New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, currently a presidential candidate, or her campaign.
It was not immediately clear if other notables like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio or former New York Senator Hillary Clinton were invited to the event.
A White House official told DailyMail.com on background that ‘all members of Congress’ were sent invitations.
George Pataki, who was governor of the state on 9/11 and a Republican, was at the event, the White House’s guest list indicated.
Also present was Bernie Kerik, who was the NYPD’s commissioner during the 9/11 attacks and was later jailed for offenses which included ethics violations, tax evasion and making false statements.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Francesca Chambers