President Obama raised money at the Hancock Park home of “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes on Wednesday evening, briefly addressing unfolding crises in Gaza and Ukraine but also injecting a bit of levity as he spoke to a crowd heavy in showbiz donors.
Speaking in Rhimes’ backyard before a donors shaded by white umbrellas from early evening hot sun, Obama acknowledged the anxiousness many in the country feel as well as the worry over international turmoil.
He said that “the conflict that probably makes people most discouraged is the conflict they see in Washington, where members of Congress can’t seem to do anything; where all we hear about is gridlock, and all we hear about is posturing, and all we hear about are phony scandals.”
“No offense. ‘Scandal’ is a great show. But it’s not something that we necessarily want to be living out day in, day out,” he said.
The international concerns didn’t dampen donor enthusiasm, with about 450 people attending at ticket levels ranging from $1,000 per person up to $32,400 per person, the latter including dinner with the president, according to a DNC official. Millions were expected to be raised from Obama’s series of fundraising events over the last few days, as donors increasingly focus on the possibility that the Democrats may lose control of the Senate in November.
“Scandal” star Kerry Washington was a special guest at the Rhimes event, and Chris Silbermann of ICM Partners was a co-host. Among those also there were singer Janelle Monae, who performed; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the DNC; Motown founder Berry Gordy; Debbie Allen and NBA player Jason Collins. Other “Scandal” cast members also were there, including Scott Foley and the actor who plays the fictional president, Tony Goldwyn.
In his remarks, Obama said that the reason that D.C. wasn’t working was in part because “the Republican Party has been taken over by people who just don’t believe in government.”
“And so they obstruct, and they obfuscate, and they bamboozle, and sometimes don’t tell exactly what’s true…. That was a euphemism.” The crowd laughed.
Per a pool report, he also lamented the tendency for Democrats not to turn out during midterm elections, leaving people “surprised when John Boehner is “Speaker of the House.”
“‘Say, well, how did that happen?'” he said to laughter. “‘What happened to Nancy Pelosi?’ What happened is y’all didn’t work. That’s what happened. And then all kinds of stuff happened. That’s what it was. Stuff. So we’ve got to step it up in the midterms.”
Obama later appeared at a smaller gathering at Rhimes’s home for about 60 people, and he had a Q&A in which he answered questions on topics ranging from immigration to gridlock in Congress, according to one attendee.
The attendee said that Obama was “the most relaxed I’ve seen him,” even while he spoke “passionately” in rallying the crowd. San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, who attended, said that one message that resonated was pay equity and raising the minimum wage, as well as “making sure people are engaged every year and not just in a presidential election cycle.”
Held at her Italianate Mediterranean estate, the Rhimes event was the highest profile of all of Obama’s fundraisers during this three-day trip out west, due to the popularity and visibility of “Scandal” even among serious policy types.
Rhimes introduced Obama, saying, “He’s been doing his job like a boss.”
Obama thanks Rhimes for her “incredible kindness to me and my family. He said that there were “few people who worked harder” on his campaign than Washington, a longtime campaign supporter.
He also joked about Monae’s many appearances at the White House, often to perform. He noted that she has a video of him trying to keep up with her and Usher on the dance floor at a late-night after party at the White House following the inauguration in 2013. “Now this is top secret,” Obama said. “She has promised that this will never be released. But she can blackmail me at any time.”
She confirmed that she had the video.
“Let me say I did not drop in splits,” Obama added. “But I did bust a move. That I did do.”
In a short interview last week, Rhimes said that she was contacted by the DNC about hosting the event, and she agreed. The DNC also held a drawing for tickets to meet Obama during his swing through L.A.
“I have not talked to the President about ‘Scandal.'” Rhimes said last week at the Television Critics Assn. Press Tour. “I know that Mrs. Obama has watched ‘Scandal,’ and that’s been fun.”
His visit to Los Angeles was marked by criticism, including from some in his own party, of whether he should be engaged in fundraising at a time with so many international crises, including the war in Gaza and the crash of a Malaysian Airlines jetliner in Ukraine. The White House abandoned plans for Obama to appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” during this trip, with White House spokesman Josh Earnest saying that the decision was in part made because there were more “serious matters” going on for the president than appearing on a comedy late-night talk show.
But his staff defended the decision to keep the trip on the schedule.
“The President is the President 24 hours a day, no matter where he is,” White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters en route to Los Angeles. “And that’s why he travels with an array of staff and communications equipment that allow him to do his job from wherever he happens to be.”
Nevertheless, even as donors showed enthusiasm via their checkbooks, there was some protest outside the Hancock park event. Several dozen activists demonstrated at a public park on Olympic Boulevard to urge Obama to take a “real stand” for net neutrality, just as advocates also staged a protest earlier on Wednesday outside a fundraiser the president was attending in Silicon Valley. Many have urged the FCC to adopt stringent rules to prevent Internet providers from blocking or discriminating against certain types of content, and to ban any attempt to prioritize web traffic.
A more curious protest emerged in the past few days, as posters have popped up in Hancock Park featuring the word “SCANDALS” in bold letters, and a picture of Obama below. There’s also a message: “Don’t be an #ass—.” The posters were anonymous, but were a play on the name of Rhimes’ popular show.
Obama is scheduled to attend an event at the home of Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino on Thursday, with tickets priced at $32,400 per person.
The trip is Obama’s 17th to Los Angeles since becoming president.
Debra Birnbaum contributed to this report.