Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Tuesday night called on Congress to extend legislation that aids rescuers and others affected by Ground Zero toxins, as she reflected on the "hell" she witnessed one day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"It was just a scene out of Dante's Inferno," said Clinton, a U.S. senator when she visited the site 13 years ago. "It was as close to hell as I can imagine any of us experiencing."
She described breathing toxic air and seeing billowing smoke. "All you had to do is be there, and you knew that there were going to be consequences to the people who had survived," she said.
Clinton spoke at a lower Manhattan fundraising benefiting 9/11 Health Watch, which monitors aid for those who fell ill after the 2001 attacks. She said she was among the first to demand legislative action on behalf of 9/11 first-responders and others whose health was threatened. The event was hosted at the United Federation of Teachers headquarters, and Clinton was introduced by AFL-CIO state president Mario Cilento.
"Organized labor was my principal ally," Clinton said. Pension funds were the only initial means of helping those who worked on "the pile," she said.
Thousands have benefited from the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, signed into law in 2011 to monitor and treat 9/11-related health conditions, but thousands more still need attention, Clinton said. She urged Congress to renew the law before it expires in two years.
"The price of passage was a so-called sunset clause, and it will come due," she said.
She thanked New York Democratic allies in Congress, including Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), but also Seaford Republican Rep. Peter King for recognizing that Zadroga isn't a "partisan issue," but rather an "American issue."
"Last week, with the anniversary, we mourned," Clinton said. "This week, we mobilize."
As Clinton's speech ended, six immigration activists with a group called "United We Dream" chanted "undocumented, unafraid" and were escorted out by security officials. One protester, Mateo Tabares, 19, of Queens, whose family is from Colombia, told reporters Clinton opposes action by President Barack Obama to prevent deportations.
Clinton's spokesman Tuesday night did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the protest.