A mixture of Hollywood figures and industry chieftans were among those greeting President Obama as he swung through Los Angeles for a series of fund raisers on Monday, as he tried to boost the prospects of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) as she faces one of the most difficult reelection battles of her career.
In contrast to his last visit nearly a year ago, when the honeymoon of his presidency had yet to wear off, these events were marked by warnings from Obama on the difficult political terrain ahead, as well as the spectacle of hecklers who momentarily stopped his speech to some 1,000 donors at the California Science Center.
When one protester shouted “repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Obama stopped and said, “We are going to do that,” as the crowd tried to drown out the shouting with chants of “Yes, We Can!” Obama added, “When you’ve got an ally like Barbara Boxer and you’ve got an ally like me who are standing for the same thing, then you don’t know exactly why you’ve got to holler, because we already hear you, all right? I mean, it would have made more sense to holler that at the people who oppose it.”
When the shouts continued, Obama finally said, “I’m sorry, but do you want to come up here?”
The protesters were escorted out of the event.
With less than 24 hours spent in Los Angeles, the primary reason for Obama’s trip was to help Boxer, who faces a difficult reelection against one of three potential Republican challengers: Carly Fiorina, Tom Campbell and Chuck DeVore.
All told, the evening was expected to raise almost $3.5 million, with most of the proceeds going to Boxer’s campaign and the rest to the Democratic National Committee. Investor Sim Farar, who is Boxer’s national finance chair, said they well exceeded their goals. “We were sold out,” he said, adding that he was “overwhelmingly surprised” given the tough economy.
“We’ve got a lot more work to do,” Obama said at the first of three fund-raisers he attended, according to a pool report. “Our work is not yet done. And because some of the things that we did were not popular, we’re going to have a tough political fight coming up. … Barbara is going to have a tough race.
He added, “it’s tough being an incumbent. And it’s even tougher when you’ve got the other side of the aisle, which helped cause the mess…distorting the records of [people like] Barbara Boxer.”
Obama and Boxer appeared at a $2,500-per-person VIP reception at the California Science Center; a $250-per-person general reception, also at the science center, and featuring entertainment India.Arie; and a more exclusive $17,600-per-person dinner at the nearby Natural History Museum, where guests dined on steak and au gratin potatoes in an elegant setting surrounded by animal dioramas.
Among those also present at the dinner were CAA’s Bryan Lourd, music executive and producers Clarence Avant and Berry Gordy, producer Lawrence Bender, musician Will.i.am, novelist Judith Krantz, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and philanthropist Eli Broad. The dinner was co- hosted by John Emerson, chairman of the Los Angeles Music Center, and Ken Solomon, CEO of the Tennis Channel.
Obama described Boxer as a critical vote in the passage of his agenda, and several times mentioned the need for an immigration overhaul.
Although he called for bipartisanship, his words were a bit more partisan than a year ago, particularly when it came to financial reform.
He said that he and Boxer would not “compromise our principles” to “create some false sense of peace.” He raised questions about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s motives in a recent visit to Wall Street. “I don’t know exactly what was discussed. All I can tell you is when he came back, he promptly announced he would oppose financial regulatory reform.”
Boxer, meanwhile, made light of GOP claims that health reform would lead to death panels.
“Now why would I ever pull the plug on granny? I am granny,’ she quipped at the dinner.
“I believe that people are waking up to this and we will match the tea party excitement — cup by cup by cup. We have to do it.”
Obama’s last visit to Los Angeles for a fund-raising swing was in May, when he appeared at an event at the Beverly Hilton. He was met by protesters of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at that event, too, although his speech in the hotel ballroom went on without incident.
The group GetEQUAL said that it organized the heckling, as well as a demonstration outside the science center. Among the hecklers was Dan Fotou, 34, who said he got into the event the way the rest of the donors did: By shelling out $250 for a ticket. He says that they are dismayed that Obama has not simply ended the policy by putting repeal language into an appropriations bill, rather than let the process drag out with a Pentagon survey and study.
“It is about trusting our president to do what he said when we elected him…We can’t be placated any longer,” he said.
But he did offer some words of praise for the event itself: He called India.Arie’s performance “lovely.”
Obama is expected to return to California to raise money for Boxer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at an event in San Francisco on May 27.