Donald Trump signed the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund on Monday at the White House Rose Garden while reminding first responders that he was also in New York City at the time of the historic terror attacks.
“I was down there also,” the president said to an audience of 60 first responders and their families who had gathered in Washington to witness the signing ceremony. “But I’m not considering myself a first responder,” he added.
The president celebrated the first responders for their service in the single deadliest terror attack in US history while signing a bill that effectively makes the victims’s health care compensation fund permanent. Many of the first responders and other victims have continued to suffer debilitating medical issues due to the debris and destruction that blanketed downtown Manhattan in the wake of the attacks responsible for nearly 3,000 deaths.
“I spent a lot of time down there with you,” the president added, appearing to suggest without evidence that he participated in either rescue efforts or surveying the damage after the attacks.
Mr Trump also joked with the first responders that the stage set up in the White House Rose Garden might fall as they were all convening for a photo. He added that if the stage falls, the responders “are not falling very far”.
While there is no evidence to indicate Mr Trump was at ground zero — the site of the terror attacks — during or immediately after the events, an interview with the president from that day features him discussing how one of his buildings had allegedly become “the tallest” in the city after the Twin Towers were destroyed.
Speaking with a local TV station hours after the attacks, Mr Trump described an “amazing phone call” he received about 40 Wall Street, a building he owned that “was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually before the World Trade Centre the tallest.”
“When they built the World Trade Centre it became known as the second-tallest, and now it’s the tallest,” he said. “And I just spoke to my people, and they said it’s the most unbelievable sight, it’s probably seven or eight blocks away from the World Trade Centre, and yet Wall Street is littered with two feet of stone and brick and mortar and steel.”
Mr Trump’s claims his building was the tallest in downtown Manhattan was not accurate from the very start, according to reports.
On Monday, the president described the group of first responders present at the White House as a “great looking group of people”.
“You inspire all of humanity,” he said.
First responders of the September 11 attacks had been frequently visiting Capitol Hill in recent weeks to battle Republican leadership in high-profile public hearings surrounding the victims compensation fund, which several GOP leaders wanted to prevent from getting a vote.
They were joined by comedian and activist Jon Stewart, who slammed Republicans like Senate Leader Mitch McConnell for refusing to vote on the bill that would extend health care benefits to victims of the attacks through 2092.
The signing ceremony arrived after the Senate approved a final version of the plan last week that would add over $10bn (£8.2bn) over ten years to the victim compensation fund. Funds had been depleted and awards were sharply cut in recent years amid fears that Congress would not provide necessary funding to keep it available to victims of the terror attacks.
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