MANCHESTER, N.H. -- For years, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was a frequent punching bag for former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who created and honed a caricature of the 2016 Republican presidential candidate as an effete, mint julep-sipping relic of the Old South.
There appear to be no hard feelings.
Graham was at work in Washington last week when he ran into Stewart -- who was in town to lobby Congress to pass a bill that would extend health care funding for 9/11 first responders.
During that encounter, Graham said, he told Stewart that he was a firm supporter of the comedian’s pet cause.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Graham recalled that Stewart cornered him in the halls of the Senate to lobby for the bill and that the South Carolinian assured him immediately that he would help get the legislation enacted.
After parting ways with Stewart, Graham said that he approached Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) between votes -- with help from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), a co-sponsor of the 9/11 responder bill -- to press him to spearhead passage.
“[McConnell] told both of us it would be in the package, and I think that’s good news for the first responders, who were exposed to a lot of bad stuff after 9/11,” Graham said. “I know there’s some offset problems, but the big picture’s got to prevail here. These men and women went into harm’s way after the largest attack on American soil in modern history, and I know some of them have suffered, and I’m confident that Sen. McConnell’s word is his bond, and it will be in the omnibus package.”
McConnell told Politico Friday that the 9/11 responder bill would indeed be included in the impending year-end spending bill.
His office told Politico that the GOP leader had always intended to support the bill, regardless of Stewart’s efforts.
Graham, however, painted a different picture of the comedian's influence.
“I think Jon, in taking on this cause as his cause with his visibility and profile -- and, quite frankly, his sincerity -- made a big difference,” Graham said. “He became the face and the voice of this cause, and he did it in a really nonpartisan manner. He was forceful, but he wanted to get a result. And I think his tenacity, along with those in the 9/11 community, won the day. I don’t know if it would’ve happened without him.”
Graham was in New Hampshire for campaign events late last week and is slated to return to the first-in-the-nation primary state next weekend. In Iowa he will once again be joined by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who won the primary twice but has not been able to boost Graham’s standing as an extreme long shot.
Despite his struggles on the campaign trail, Graham expressed satisfaction that the 9/11 responder legislation appears set for passage.
“It means that every now and then, Washington can still get it right,” he said. “It means that celebrity can be used for good, and it means that petitioning your government is alive and well.”
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