A day after announcing his support for same-sex marriage, U.S. President Barack Obama shifted his campaign’s focus back to the economy in three West Coast fundraisers that included a dinner with actor George Clooney.
The issue of gay rights, a political wild card before the November election, arose in measured references rather than as a central message during Obama’s remarks at fundraisers yesterday in Seattle and Los Angeles. The president said the same-sex marriage debate should be seen in the context of a spirit of inclusion versus what he called Republican willingness to exclude sectors of society.
“Are we a country that includes everybody and gives everybody a shot and treats everybody fairly?” Obama told 150 donors who paid $40,000 apiece to dine with him at Clooney’s Los Angeles home last night. “Are we welcoming to immigrants? Are we welcoming to people who aren’t like us? Does that make us stronger? I believe it does.”
Obama is to continue pressing pocketbook issues today in Nevada, a battleground state hit hard by the housing crisis, to press Congress to adopt refinancing proposals aimed at making low-interest loans more accessible to struggling homeowners.
Nevada had the nation’s highest rate of foreclosure filings per household at one in 95 in the first quarter, followed by California at one in 103 and Arizona at one in 106. It also has the highest unemployment rate in the U.S., 12 percent in March, compared with the national rate in April of 8.1 percent. That’s down from a high of 14 percent in October 2010.
During last night’s dinner on a basketball court at Clooney’s house, the president called his endorsement of gay marriage “a logical extension of what America’s supposed to be.” That stance, announced in a May 9 interview on ABC News, ended years of vacillation and reversed Obama’s earlier opposition.
“Obviously yesterday we made some news,” he said. “It grew directly out of this difference in visions” between Democrats and Republicans.
The comments were the most Obama said on the subject of gay marriage all day, after making no mention of it in public remarks at one of two fundraisers in Seattle and hinting at the issue without speaking directly of it at the second Seattle event.
At the same time, his re-election campaign is promoting the president’s support of same-sex marriage in e-mails to donors, and Obama is scheduled to attend fundraisers with gay rights activists on May 14 in New York featuring pop singer Ricky Martin, and on June 6 in Los Angeles.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive officer of Glendale, California-based Dreamworks Animation Skg Inc. who was behind the Clooney dinner, said it raised almost $15 million. That figure takes into account those who paid the full ticket price for the event and those who donated smaller amounts to the campaign as part of a raffle for a chance to attend the dinner.
The guest list included Hollywood celebrities such as Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black and Barbra Streisand, as well as the two raffle winners: a science teacher from Manalapan, New Jersey, and a utility company communications coordinator from St. Augustine, Florida, and their husbands.
Obama has received $2.1 million from people working in the entertainment industry, almost three-fourths of all the campaign contributions from that segment, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group. Romney has taken in $363,570. The industry is Obama’s ninth-biggest source of campaign cash, according to the center.
Obama made no mention of his marriage stance during the public portion of remarks earlier yesterday at the Seattle-area home of real estate developer Bruce Blume, the founder and chairman of the Blume Co. There, the president talked about his efforts to grow the economy, promote companies such as Boeing Co., and expand health coverage.
Reporters were not permitted to stay for Obama’s private question-and-answer session with the 70 donors.
At a second, larger Seattle fundraiser that featured musician Dave Matthews and drew younger donors, Obama spoke of gay rights without directly addressing same-sex marriage. He said his vision includes a country where everyone “regardless of sexual orientation is treated fairly” and where people can be successful “no matter who you love.”
Obama said he was taking steps to reduce foreign oil dependence, raise fuel efficiency standards and expand high-tech manufacturing in Seattle and cities such as Cleveland and Pittsburgh that are located in battleground states. He said for anyone comparing this year’s campaign to 2008, “You tell them it’s still about hope. It’s still about change.”
Obama cited the end of the Iraq war and plans to end the war in Afghanistan in 2014, along with his proposals to raise taxes on wealthy Americans, in contrast to positions held by presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s positions.
Nevada, which Obama carried in 2008 with 55 percent of the vote, has supported the winner in the past eight presidential elections. The Senate election in Nevada is one of 10 in the country rated a “toss-up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
During today’s visit, the president will discuss a package of proposals announced in February that are designed to jolt the housing market by making it easier for homeowners to refinance their mortgages.
White House press secretary Jay Carney called the refinancing proposals “an important step” for homeowners in Nevada and across the country and that it would be “inexcusable for Congress not to take action.”
The U.S. housing market is showing signs of having hit a bottom after prices fell 35 percent since peaking in 2006. Prices for single-family houses climbed in the first quarter from a year earlier in 74 of 146 metropolitan areas measured, the National Association of Realtors said in a report yesterday.
The average rate for a 30-year fixed loan fell to a record low 3.83 percent in the week ended May 10, according to Freddie Mac.
The administration wants to expand the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refinancing program for homeowners who owe more than their properties are worth to cover more borrowers.
The Home Affordable Refinance Program, known as HARP, reduces some fees and waives risk for lenders who refinance loans that they service for borrowers with less than 20 percent equity in their homes.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told lawmakers this week that homeowners with more equity should be allowed to participate and risk should be waived for lenders who refinance loans now handled by other servicers.
Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said he and California Democrat Barbara Boxer would soon introduce a bill to expand HARP to as many as 17.5 million more borrowers. The bill would streamline refinancing for borrowers with more than 20 percent equity and would encourage competition among lenders by waiving warranties when they refinance loans.