NEW YORK (AP) — President Barack Obama got heckled at a fundraiser Wednesday night by protesters pushing for more funding for AIDS programs and quicker action to allow gays to serve openly in the military.
Activists yelled slogans and held signs aloft reading “Obama broken promises KILL.” Supporters of the president tried to drown them out with shouts of “O-bam-a! O-bam-a!”
The hecklers were so raucous Obama went off-script several times to address them, insisting he’s increased AIDS funding and is working to overturn the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He told them to go shout at Republicans, noting that a vote on repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” failed this week in the Senate, with Republicans united in opposition.
“Some of those signs should be going up at the other folks’ events, and folks should be hollering at the other folks’ event. Because the choice in November could not be clearer,” the president said.
Addressing an activist pushing for more funding for global AIDS initiatives, the president said, “We heard your point. And as I said before, we increased AIDS funding. … The people who will take over if we don’t focus on the election, I promise you, will cut AIDS funding.”
The protest took place in the ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel as Obama raised $1.4 million at receptions and a dinner for the House and Senate Democratic campaign committees. Obama is in New York to attend the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.
Obama had just finished saying it’s “nice just to stop by and see some friends” when the shouting began.
Bystanders briefly tried to snatch the signs, and ultimately the heckling subsided. The signs stayed aloft throughout Obama’s remarks, and even as he shook hands afterward with well-wishers a few feet away.
One of the activists, Jennifer Flynn, told reporters she and the others bought tickets to the reception.
Democrats are anticipating potentially heavy losses in midterm elections six weeks away, and Obama tried to rally them.
“The last election was about the changing of the guard,” he said. “This election is about guarding the change.”
Tickets for the event ranged from $100 for a general reception to $15,200 for a dinner and photo with the president.
At the dinner, singer Barbara Streisand and her actor husband, James Brolin, were among those who heard Obama say Democrats have accomplished “a lot to be proud about.” But he also acknowledged widespread voter frustration.
“When I was running for office … maybe we gave people the wrong impression about how change happens,” Obama said.
But after reviewing for his audience the health care overhaul, his new Wall Street rules and other tough policy battles, Obama said, “People, this is what change looks like.”
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