A group of activists staged a sit-in in Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) personal office over funding for HIV and AIDS programs Monday, ending with several demonstrators being arrested by Capitol Police.
The demonstration, organized by the groups Housing Works and Health GAP, centered on domestic funding for HIV and AIDS programs as well as reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, a global program.
PEPFAR authorization expires on Sept. 30 and has gotten tied into abortion politics as some Republicans worry that funds from the program have indirectly supported abortions, a charge Biden administration officials have dismissed, The Washington Post reported.
“PEPFAR has saved millions of lives. It is criminal for some members of Congress to treat it as a political football,” Charles King, CEO of Housing Works, said in a statement. “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.”
Organizers said that seven demonstrators were arrested after about 10 to 15 minutes of being in the office, and that those arrested included King and Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell. Capitol Police said that the seven people were arrested on charges of unlawful entry after they refused to cease demonstrating.
The two groups are calling for a “clean” five-year reauthorization of PEPFAR, and say that House Republicans have proposed $767 million in cuts to domestic HIV programs.
“House Republicans are 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.,” Russell said in a statement. “Extremists in the House have sunk to a new low. Never in the twenty-year history of PEPFAR have lawmakers pulled such outrageous stunts. We demand a 5-year reauthorization of PEPFAR in its current form, and full funding for HIV treatment and prevention programs in the U.S.”
McCarthy’s personal office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the incident.
–Updated at 2:17 p.m.