Police Arrest 7 People Who Stormed McCarthy’s Office in Protest Over HIV/AIDS Funding

Police Arrest 7 People Who Stormed McCarthy’s Office in Protest Over HIV/AIDS Funding
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to the media during a briefing in National Statuary Hall at the Capitol in Washington on July 17, 2023. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Katabella Roberts
Updated:
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Multiple activists have been arrested after entering House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office on Sept. 11 and staging a protest over HIV/AIDS funding, according to officials.

At least seven protesters were arrested during the incident, Capitol Police confirmed in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times.

“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,” a Capitol Police spokesperson said.

In a separate statement to The Washington Post, Brianna Burch, a Capitol Police spokeswoman, said police had been called to the demonstration at about 11:18 a.m.

It is not clear exactly how long the protest lasted or if Mr. McCarthy was out of his office when the protesters stormed in.

Video footage of the protest was widely shared online.

It shows multiple individuals seated on the floor of Mr. McCarthy’s office, linking arms and raising their fists in the air while chanting “Pass PEPFAR now, McCarthy!” referring to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

PEPFAR is a government initiative introduced by former President George W. Bush to address the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. The program provides funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and epidemic control, as well as research and treatment.

Since its inception in 2003, PEPFAR has saved more than 25 million lives and “dramatically improved health outcomes” in more than 55 partner countries, according to the White House.

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to members of the press outside his office at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on June 7, 2023. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to members of the press outside his office at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on June 7, 2023. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Abortion Concerns

The program has since been reauthorized three times, and President Joe Biden in January indicated that he would work with lawmakers in Congress to pass a government funding bill for the initiative to extend for a fourth time before it expires on Sept. 30.

However, House Republicans have so far stalled reauthorization efforts amid concerns that the program’s roughly $7 billion in funding may be used to support abortions.

According to a May report from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., the Biden administration has “misused the program as a well-funded vehicle to promote its domestic radical social agenda overseas.”

“Congress should resist the Biden Administration’s effort to poison bipartisan support for PEPFAR by misusing it to promote abortion under the guise of sexual and reproductive health and transgenderism,” the think tank wrote in its report.

The Biden administration has denied those claims.

The activists who illegally occupied Mr. McCarthy’s office were with two New York City-based nonprofits: Housing Works and Health GAP, according to officials.

The latter shared video footage of some of the arrests on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“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,” the organization wrote.

A man walks past a signboard warning residents that the threat of HIV/AIDS is real in Lagos, Nigeria, on March 31, 2001. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks past a signboard warning residents that the threat of HIV/AIDS is real in Lagos, Nigeria, on March 31, 2001. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

‘Political Football’

Charles King, CEO of Housing Works, was among those arrested, the organization confirmed.

“PEPFAR has saved millions of lives. It is criminal for some members of Congress to treat it as a political football,” Mr. King said in a statement following the protest. “AIDS isn’t over until it’s over for everyone. PEPFAR has been essential to helping people in developing countries flatten the curve of HIV transmission. The United States has committed to the international goal of ending AIDS by 2030, and we cannot do that if PEPFAR is threatened.”

“Haiti relies on PEPFAR funding for all of its HIV treatment,” Mr. King continued. “Housing Works is intimately involved in monitoring the distribution of ARVs [antiretrovirals] in Haiti, which are 100 percent funded through PEPFAR, so we are acutely aware of the risk posed by any threat to the funding of this vital program.”

Elsewhere, Asia Russell, executive director of Health GAP, accused House Republicans of “playing political games with the lives of countless adults, children, and newborns with HIV and most affected by HIV across the globe and here in the U.S.”

Ms. Russell was also arrested on Monday, she confirmed.

“Extremists in the House have sunk to a new low. Never in the 20-year history of PEPFAR have lawmakers pulled such outrageous stunts. We demand a five-year reauthorization of PEPFAR in its current form, and full funding for HIV treatment and prevention programs in the U.S.” Ms. Russell added.

The House will be back in session this week following summer break although it is still unclear whether the PEPFAR funding will be reauthorized.

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