This is getting out of control.
On Monday, a small group of activists took over House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office, staging a protest, as reported by on-site journalists. Among these reporters, Alice Miranda Ollstein from Politico shared video footage on social media, where the activists were calling on McCarthy, a Republican from California, to renew the authorization for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
According to Newsweek, PEPFAR is a government initiative collaborating with non-profit organizations to provide HIV/AIDS medication to individuals globally. Its current authorization is slated to expire on September 30, unless it is renewed. Some Republicans are opposed to extending the program, citing concerns that it may be misused to fund or promote abortion services.
During the protest, Ollstein noted that the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) arrested seven demonstrators. The demonstration was organized by advocacy groups Housing Works and Health GAP (Global Access Project).
A message from Health GAP’s account on social media read, “As activists from @housingworks and @HealthGAP are arrested in an act of civil disobedience in Speaker McCarthy’s office, a reminder that @PEPFAR exists today because of brave activist direct action targeting duty bearers. Proud of activists! #ProudofPEPFAR.”
Housing Works also acknowledged the protest on social media and mentioned that its CEO, Charles King, and Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell were among those arrested.
The U.S. Capitol Police provided a statement to Newsweek, stating, “This morning, multiple individuals were demonstrating inside a House Office Building. After the demonstrators refused to cease demonstrating, USCP then arrested the 4 males and 3 females for Unlawful Entry.”
PEPFAR, introduced in 2003 by former President George W. Bush, was initiated to reduce global AIDS-related deaths. The program allocates funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, research, and treatment.
One of the Republican lawmakers not in favor of reauthorizing PEPFAR in its current form is Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, who chairs the U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee overseeing PEPFAR’s funding. Smith, who authored the 2018 bill reauthorizing PEPFAR, now insists on excluding funding for abortion services before supporting reauthorization.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has also exerted pressure on PEPFAR. They released a report earlier this year, accusing the Biden administration of using PEPFAR to advance its domestic social agenda abroad. The Biden administration has refuted claims that PEPFAR indirectly supports abortions and advocates for a “clean” five-year reauthorization, a stance supported by Health GAP and Housing Works.
While PEPFAR won’t immediately shut down without reauthorization, proponents of the program warn that its operations would be disrupted without government support.
BREAKING: Activists are occupying @SpeakerMcCarthy’s office demanding a full 5 year reauthorization of PEPFAR, which some Rs are opposing. Background: https://t.co/nQVnCxPDE0 pic.twitter.com/wCZx4Z6wzu
— Alice Miranda Ollstein (@AliceOllstein) September 11, 2023
As activists from @housingworks and @HealthGAP are arrested in an act of civil disobedience in Speaker McCarthy's office, a reminder that @PEPFAR exists today because of brave activist direct action targeting duty bearers. Proud of activists! #ProudofPEPFAR pic.twitter.com/rvXHosjupb
— Health GAP (@HealthGAP) September 11, 2023