President Obama returned to Washington Thursday afternoon from a Democratic fundraising tour in San Francisco that included appearances at four high-dollar private fundraising events and garnered criticism from Washington Republicans and progressive activists alike.
Fury at the President’s Bay Area junket focused on environmental issues, Obama’s comments on the appearance of California’s attorney general, and wasteful hobnobbing with billionaires as the economy is grinding to a halt and labor force participation has plummeted to its lowest rate since 1979.
Obama kicked off his fundraising swing with two events for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in two of San Francisco’s wealthiest communities.
Obama appeared Wednesday at a $5,000-a-head cocktail reception at the $5.8 million Sea Cliff, San Francisco home of investor and environmental activist Tom Steyer and his wife Kat Taylor, a philanthropist who serves on the board of directors of organizations including the Insight Prison Project, which runs programs inside San Quentin Prison that seek to transform the lives of “those impacted by incarceration” through “emotional literacy” programs and yoga.
“We’ve been able to reduce carbon emissions in this country … (and) address one of the biggest challenges of our time — and that is climate change,” Obama said in his remarks at the Steyer fundraiser, noting that he has made his environmental accomplishments despite an “aggressive agenda” by Republicans.
“We’ve got more work to do in terms of dealing with climate change and making sure that we’ve got an economy that is energy-efficient,” Obama added.
Obama has yet to make a decision on whether he will approve the planned Keystone XL pipeline, which Steyer, a onetime top prospect to replace Energy Secretary Steven Chu, adamantly opposes. Steyer has recently funded attack ads against Democratic Massachusetts Senate candidate Stephen Lynch, who supports the pipeline.
Obama later appeared alongside House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a $32,500-per-person fundraiser at the home of billionaire Gordon Getty, the son of the late oil billionaire J. Paul Getty, while hundreds of anti-Keystone protesters held signs and demonstrated near the event.
“I’d guess pretty much everyone here voted for Obama,” said one anti-Keystone activist who protested the Obama fundraiser. “But he’s not representing us. He just doesn’t have the political will.”
The Republican National Committee released an ad Wednesday entitled “Billionaire Row,” which excoriated Obama for campaigning against the top one percent during the 2012 election, and appearing at billionaires’ fundraisers after his victory.
Obama spent Wednesday night at the Intercontinental San Francisco hotel, where the 2,000 square foot presidential suite has a starting rate of $3,500 per night.
Obama took off Thursday morning for Atherton, Calif., where he appeared at two more DCCC fundraisers. Air Force One landed at Menlo Circus Club, where the president was greeted by approximately 100 more anti-Keystone activists before quickly taking off in his motorcade for the fundraisers.
Obama appeared at the Atherton hills home of Medley Partners Managing Director Mark Heising, where tickets cost $32,400, and then the Atherton home of Levi-Strauss heir John Goldman, where tickets ranged from $1,00o to $20,000.
Obama drew more controversy at the Goldman fundraiser when he joked that California Attorney General Kamala Harris “also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country.”
“It’s true! Come on!” Obama added.
“Obama in need of gender-sensitivity training” complained a blog for the liberal New York magazine.
While Obama mainly spoke in vagaries at the fundraisers and praised his own direct and indirect accomplishments — noting, for instance, that singer and Getty fundraiser guest Brandi Carlile “got married (to her same-sex partner) the day I announced I supported same-sex marriage” — his appearance with Steyer has generated the most speculation about his potential second-term agenda.
A reporter asked White House press secretary Jay Carney Wednesday aboard Air Force One whether the president’s decision on the Keystone pipeline will be “at all influenced by people like Mr. Steyer, who is hosting the President today?” Carney deflected the question.
Steyer’s recent statements on climate change have been radical and uncompromising, records reveal.
Steyer spoke at the “Forward on Climate” rally on the National Mall in February, where he appeared alongside Green For All founder and 9/11 conspiracy theorist Van Jones and stood on stage behind Canadian-born “Lost” actress Evangeline Lilly while said she was “ashamed of what my country is doing … knocking on your doors with dirty oil.”
“Give it up for Tom Steyer!” said Hip Hop Caucus president Lennox Yearwood in his introduction of Steyer.
“I get the argument for the Keystone pipeline. The argument for the Keystone pipeline is business as usual. We use fossil fuels, we continue to use fossil fuels, we need to transport them. But the time for business as usual has passed,” Steyer said.
“We can’t afford forty more years of dirty energy. We can’t afford the droughts, the storms, the disasters,” Steyer said (54:30 of video).