President Barack Obama used fundraisers on Wednesday to assuage supporters' concerns about a transnational oil pipeline and his commitment to tackling climate change, while urging them to drive Republicans out of power in Congress in 2014.
The Obama administration is expected to decide later this year whether to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada's oil sands to Texas. Environmentalists oppose the project, saying its carbon emissions would contribute unnecessarily to global warming. Supporters say the pipeline is necessary to increase U.S. energy independence.
On a fundraising swing to boost Democrats' chances of winning back the House of Representatives, Obama highlighted his administration's achievements and pledged to work with Republicans. But climate change was clearly on his mind."Despite a very aggressive agenda on the other side to block action, we've been able to double fuel-efficiency standards on cars, we've been able to take mercury out of our air, we have been able to reduce carbon emissions in this country," he said at the first of two fundraisers on Wednesday night.
That fundraiser, a cocktail reception priced at $5,000 a person, was held at the home of Kat Taylor and her husband, billionaire former asset manager Tom Steyer, an ardent opponent of the pipeline project. Steyer has become a polarizing figure among Democrats recently after diving into the U.S. Senate primary contest in Massachusetts. The San Francisco billionaire sided with Representative Edward Markey, a Keystone critic, while pouring financial resources into attack ads against Representative Stephen Lynch, who has supported the pipeline.
Obama did not mention Keystone during his remarks, but he came back repeatedly to the topic of global warming, a clear nod to the concerns of his host. "We've got more work to do in terms of dealing with climate change and making sure that we've got an economy that is energy-efficient," Obama said. The notion that there was a contradiction between supporting the economy and supporting the environment was false. Hundreds of anti-pipeline activists lined the streets near Obama's second fundraiser, a $32,500-per-person dinner held at the home of billionaires Ann and Gordon Getty.
Wearing a sign that read "We called for you, now we're calling on you," Leslie Terzian, a small business owner from San Francisco, said she volunteered for Obama's campaigns in both 2008 and 2012 but was disappointed that the president had not voiced opposition to the pipeline.
"I'd guess pretty much everyone here voted for Obama," Terzian said. "But he's not representing us. He just doesn't have the political will."
Climate change issues aside, Obama told donors he wanted to see Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, become the chamber's top official again in the future. "I expect that she is going to be once again speaker of the House," Obama said of the California Democrat.
To make that happen, Democrats must take control of the House by wining 17 seats in 2014. The fundraising trip to California, which continues on Thursday, was meant to help that effort by filling Democratic coffers.
Obama is also trying to get Republican support for key policy priorities including immigration reform and deficit reduction in Washington. His broad comments, which were not especially critical of the opposing party, appeared to be designed not to antagonize negotiating partners on Capitol Hill. "My intention here is to try to get as much done with the Republican Party over the next two years as I can, ‘cause we can't have perpetual campaigns," he said.
But in the same set of remarks, he urged Democrats to do everything they could to help Pelosi take back power from Republican John Boehner, the current House speaker.
Additional reporting by Gerry Shih of Reuters.