Protesters Arrested for Occupying Kevin McCarthy’s Office Over Aids Funding – On Monday, a group of individuals was apprehended after they entered the office of Kevin McCarthy, the Speaker of the House, as part of a protest advocating for increased funding for HIV/AIDS. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program that enjoys broad bipartisan support, has been renewed three times and President Joe Biden has expressed his intention to collaborate with Congress to extend it for a fourth time earlier this year.
However, the most recent extension of the program has become entangled in a partisan dispute centered on abortion, and it faces jeopardy amidst ongoing negotiations in Congress regarding a potential government shutdown. In an August report from the Federation of American Scientists, it was noted that some Republicans are objecting to the reauthorization of PEPFAR, contending that the existing restrictions do not effectively prevent the funds from indirectly supporting abortion.
“Any multi-year PEPFAR reauthorizing legislation must ensure that Biden’s hijacking of PEPFAR to promote abortion be halted,” wrote New Jersey Republican Representative Chris Smith, who chairs the House foreign affairs subcommittee, in a letter to colleagues in June. At Kevin McCarthy’s Washington D.C. office, six activists were handcuffed by Capitol police and subsequently escorted away, as reported by Alice Ollstein of Politico.
Ollstein also shared videos from the scene, which took place at the Rayburn House office building connected to the U.S. Capitol. In McCarthy’s office, protesters were observed sitting and vocalizing their demands, urging the Republican leader to renew crucial provisions of PEPFAR, which are set to expire by the end of the month unless an agreement is reached.
This program, initially established in 2003 by President George W. Bush, has the primary goal of preventing and treating HIV/AIDS in developing countries worldwide and is under the oversight of the U.S. Department of State. As of a January White House statement, approximately 20 million individuals rely on this program worldwide. Although Smith co-sponsored the 2018 bill that extended PEPFAR for five years, he is currently attempting to impede its renewal.
This change in stance comes after President Biden, in 2021, lifted the restrictions implemented during the Trump era that prohibited PEPFAR and other global programs receiving U.S. funding from engaging in or advocating for abortions. It’s worth noting that while PEPFAR can continue its operations without congressional reauthorization, advocates emphasize that failing to renew it would send a concerning signal about diminishing U.S. support for HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.
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According to posts on social media by the advocacy groups Health Gap (Global Access Project) and Housing Works, the protesters were individuals affiliated with HIV/AIDS nonprofit organizations based in New York City. The House is scheduled to resume its sessions on Capitol Hill on Tuesday after its summer recess, as they hurry to negotiate an agreement to maintain the funding for federal agencies and programs until December. The Senate already returned last week.