President Barack Obama carried through on a fundraising swing in his hometown on Wednesday, even as news of the deadly Fort Hood military base shooting prompted him to change course to address the tragedy.
The president was notified of the shooting while attending a Democratic National Committee fundraiser with about 25 supporters who paid up to $32,500 to attend at Chicago Cut Steakhouse. His former top aides, David Axelrod and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, joined him as well as Gov. Pat Quinn, who greeted the president during his arrival at O’Hare earlier in the day.
The president diverted from his schedule to give a brief, off-the-cuff statement to reporters inside the restaurant; his remarks lasted about two minutes. With a makeshift backdrop and no lectern before him, a solemn-looking president said another deadly shooting on the base since a 2009 tragedy left 11 dead opened old wounds.
“We’re heartbroken that something like this might have happened again,” Obama said, noting he didn’t have all the facts yet at that point. “Any shooting is troubling. Obviously this reopens the pain of what happened at Fort Hood five years ago.”
Other parts of the president’s visit to Chicago were not without drama. As the presidential motorcade worked its way toward Lincoln Park for a fundraiser, hundreds of protesters lined Fullerton Avenue, shouting and holding up signs denouncing an extension of the Keystone Pipeline. Some also called for immigration reform and a stop to deportations. At another point, a protester shoved WBBM-Channel 2 news reporter Jay Levine in the middle of a live report and screamed: “Obama is a war criminal.”
The president later attended a dinner reception at the private residence of Grace Tsao-Wu and Craig Freedman in Lincoln Park with about 55 supporters who contributed up to $10,000 to attend.
Tsao-Wu welcomed Quinn, who was in attendance, as was Henry Munoz of San Antonio, the finance chair of the DNC and Valerie Jarrett.
Obama gave brief remarks in the media’s presence, commenting on his deep roots in Chicago and how he knew so many of the people in the room for decades. He talked on a range of topics including the economy, income disparity, immigration and politics.
“We need to hang onto the Senate. We need to pick up seats in the House. We need to make sure that the public knows very evenly what’s at stake in this election. And it’s hard during mid-terms because Democrats have a tendency that we get really excited during presidential years, and then during mid-terms we go into hibernation,” he said. “Our agenda, our values, the things that we care about, the things by the way that a majority of Americans by and large agree with up and down the line can only happen if we’ve got a Congress that is prepared to work.”
Tsao-Wu, whose children stood on a stairway looking down on her and the president, talked about the president’s deep roots in Chicago and how so many of those in the audience had known him for decades.
Tsao-Wu noted that she first found out about Obama when he was running for the U.S. Senate and there was an article about the net worth of the candidates running in the primary.
To that, Obama said: “Uh-oh” to loud laughter.
“They had seven faces lined up . . . and there was a number beneath each face and Barack Obama had the smallest number,” she said.
“My husband pointed it out to me and said: ‘Look at this guy, he looks kind of interesting. Check it out,’ ” she said. “I made a point of meeting him not too long after. I turned to my husband that evening and said, he will be president of the United States someday.”