On a day that marked the return of House members to Washington D.C. after their summer break, an unexpected event unfolded.
A group of determined HIV activists stormed the office of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Capitol Hill, demanding the reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
PEPFAR, a program initiated by President George W. Bush, has been widely praised for its significant contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The program, which faces a September 30 deadline for reauthorization, provides funding for prevention, treatment, and medication in developing regions across Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.
It is also credited with saving an estimated 25 million lives worldwide.
🚨NOW: Protesters are occupying Kevin McCarthy’s office demanding that he re-authorize PEPFAR, the HIV/AIDS relief program.
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) September 11, 2023
The protesters were representatives from Health GAP (Global Access Project) and Housing Works. Both organizations are dedicated to advocating for those affected by HIV and working towards ending homelessness and AIDS.
They took to social media to share images and videos of their protest, emphasizing the importance of a clean five-year reauthorization of the global AIDS program.
However, the reauthorization of PEPFAR has become a contentious issue, entangled in the ongoing debate over abortion.
Some conservative Republicans argue funds from the program’s nearly $7 billion annual budget are being directed to abortion providers. This claim has been vehemently denied by the Biden administration, the program’s leaders, and outside experts.
— Robert J. O'Neill (@mchooyah) September 11, 2023
Leading the charge against the program’s renewal is Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who heads the subcommittee that controls PEPFAR.
Smith is pushing for the reinstatement of anti-abortion restrictions lifted by the Biden administration in 2021. These restrictions previously prevented groups using PEPFAR funds from discussing abortion as an option.
Democrats counter this argument, stating any pause in funding could potentially harm those battling the virus. Amidst these debates, Speaker McCarthy finds himself juggling multiple government funding issues.
As lawmakers return to Capitol Hill, McCarthy is tasked with funding the government before the September 30 deadline, addressing a White House request for more aid to Ukraine, and appeasing calls for impeachment proceedings against Joe Biden.