Obama heckled in New York over AIDS, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

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.
By Scott Wilson
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; 8:58 PM

NEW YORK - A group of AIDS activists interrupted President Obama as he raised money for a pair of Democratic Party committees Wednesday evening, accusing him of neglecting his campaign pledge to invest more money to fight the disease.

The demonstrators mixed among several hundred guests at the Roosevelt Hotel, where Obama delivered his standard campaign-season riff on the Republicans counting on the public's amnesia in order to win the November midterm elections.

Soon after Obama began speaking, a woman shouted, "President Obama, President Obama," while several men held up signs that read, "Broken promises" and "No retreat, fund AIDS."

Obama engaged with the demonstrators, saying, "Apparently you're interested in funding AIDS. . . . We have increased AIDS funding." Then he proceeded with his remarks.

The woman interrupted him again, and Obama replied, "We listened to you, we heard your point. . . . It's a conversation I'm happy to have." The woman stopped shouting, but the men continued displaying the signs.

Later, on the other side of the room, a man shouted out, "Don't ask, don't tell," twice.

The rest of the audience chanted "Obama, Obama" to drown out the demonstrators, and someone tried to pull down the signs. The activists quieted down after Obama spoke to them - and their concerns - directly.

"We need your energy and enthusiasm," Obama said. "This young lady here, she wants an increase in AIDS funding. ... I'm sure we could do more, if we're able to grow this economy again. That young man shouted, 'Don't ask, don't tell.' . . . As president, I said we would reverse it."

Such heckling of Obama at Democratic fundraisers has become routine in recent months. The president was interrupted in April and May - both times at fundraisers for Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) - by people protesting the president's pace on eliminating "don't ask, don't tell." The policy forbids gay men and lesbians from openly serving in the military; the president has urged its repeal, but Congress has resisted any change.

Wednesday's fundraiser raised $1.4 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Tickets ranged from $100 for the general reception to $15,200 for dinner and a photo with the president.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company