A group of nine 9/11 first responders who arrived in Washington, DC, to pressure Congress into passing a health care bill were met with an unwelcome surprise: A police escort, courtesy of Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Collins called Capitol Police when she heard the activists were planning to arrive on the Hill and stay in senators' offices until they had the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster of the health care bill for 9/11 responders, the New York Daily News reports.
But Collins's office apparently sensed the bad publicity a move like that would no doubt cause, because her staffers soon offered tepid support for the bill, telling the responders it will pass if it comes onto the Senate floor.
The potentially tense situation began when a staff member for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) "informed Capitol Police yesterday that we expected a large group of people to visit the office today," said Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for the Senator.
"The intent was never to discourage the visit, nor were Capitol police ever asked to intervene," said Kelley. "In fact, the group had a very insightful discussion with Senator Collins' Staff Director on the Senate Homeland Security Committee about the 9/11 health bill."
“I’m deeply disappointed in Sen. Collins for calling the Capitol Police, but they welcomed us with open arms,” said John Feal, a demolition supervisor whose foot was crushed by metal in the World Trade Center wreckage.
“I’m more disappointed that Susan Collins is hiding behind ideology, and now the police, to stop from helping us,” he added. “And the people she called to stop us, are just like us. It’s a little ironic."
The $7.4-billion bill, meant to help those who got sick from exposure to toxic dust and other hazards in the World Trade Center collapse, was defeated in the Senate last week when Republicans filibustered it. It went down in a test vote, 57 to 42. Republicans said they would not support any bill until the extension of the Bush tax cuts was completed.
The move drew outrage from Democrats, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and even Comedy Central's Jon Stewart.
"The attacks of 9/11 were attacks on America," Bloomberg said, "and we have a collective responsibility to care for the heroes — from all 50 states — who answered the call of duty, saved lives, and helped our nation recover."
"Since when does the Republican Party make 9/11 first responders stand over in the corner with the gays and Mexicans?" Stewart joked.
With the Bush tax cuts now a presidential signature away from law, some Republican senators are signaling that they will back the measure.
According to the Daily News, staffers at both Sen. Collins' office and the office of Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski have said they expect the health care bill to pass.
The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act would provide free health care and compensation payments to responders who suffered illness from exposure to toxins at the World Trade Center site.
CORRECTION: The original version of this story identified Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe as the senator who called police on the 9/11 responders. It was in fact Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Raw Story apologizes for the error.