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President Barack Obama kicked off a Hollywood fundraising blitz on Wednesday at the sprawling Austin manse of Spy Kids director Robert Rodriguez, who had pulled together an A-list crowd willing to give $32,000 each to the Democratic National Committee.
The Austin event is the first of four DNC fundraisers this month aimed at tapping the deep pockets in the entertainment industry. A recent email, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, warned industry liberals that the “Tea Party and other extremists” were “taking ground.”
“The time is now to start raising money, and protect our future,” said the email.
A source involved in the Rodriguez event told THR that the Austin fundraiser was supported by Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Demi Lovato and Danny Trejo.
According to the event pool report, Rodriguez greeted guests on Wednesday evening, saying, “Welcome to the castle.” Obama, who has come under sharp criticism for fundraising with celebrities in Texas while declining to make a trip to the troubled border, took the microphone at 11:02 p.m.
The crowd was gathered poolside in a tent, lit by three ornate crystal chandeliers. (Those who had paid $5,000 to attend were allowed to get their picture taken with the president, according to a copy of the invite obtained by THR. Guests who donated $32,400 to the DNC were allowed to attend a special VIP reception with the president at Rodriguez’s manse.)
Obama began his speech by congratulating Rodriguez for “all the great work that he is doing on the new network and shows and the way that he is broadening I think everybody’s imaginations about what America is about and what it looks like, what it sounds like.”
Obama also spoke at length about his affinity for Austin, according to the pool report. He noted that the last time he took a walk “unencumbered” was in Austin when he was campaigning for office in 2008. “I have wistful memories of that walk,” said Obama, who appeared relaxed despite his marathon day giving speeches and fundraising in Denver, Dallas and Austin.
Rodriguez, for his part, touted the importance of creativity in his introduction. Obama joked that he was going to use his creativity by taking off his suit jacket.
The president quipped that if press weren’t here, he might get more creative and jump in the pool. But then the pool report might reflect bad judgment.
“Taking off the jacket — creative,” Obama said. “Jumping in the pool — bad judgment.”
More details from the pool report, prepared by Wall Street Journal correspondent Colleen McCain Nelson:
Obama ticked off a long list of accomplishments and signs of improvement in the economy and then detailed some of the challenges that remain.
“We know that we’ve got more work to do, but the good news is we also know what we could be doing about it,” the president said. He called for more investment in infrastructure, saying that would create jobs right now and set the course for future economic growth.
He said that investing in basic technology and research would help the U.S. keep its edge. Investing in early childhood education will mean that students are less likely to drop out, more likely to go to college and less likely to go to jail. “We know that it’s a good investment.”
“The problem is that Washington isn’t working like it’s supposed to,” Obama said. “What I’ve said to my team is, ‘Get me out of Washington,’ ” the president said. He added that he wanted to talk to people who are doing the right thing and struggling so they know they are being heard.
Obama pointed to some notable Republican accomplishments, naming Lincoln as his favorite president and noting that Richard Nixon started the EPA. Historically, there have been some great Republicans and some great Democrats, he said. In dealing with today’s Republicans, “you don’t get a sense that you’ve got a party that’s serious about trying to do anything,” Obama said.
It’s not just that the GOP has a different theory about how to help, Obama said. They don’t have any theory at all beyond saying no, he said.
If people participate and feel a sense of urgency, then the country can get a Congress that’s responsive, Obama said.
“I’m willing to compromise,” Obama said. “I told Rick Perry today.”
The president argued that Republicans should support the emergency funding he’s seeking to bolster efforts at the border. But “I haven’t heard yet from the Republican delegation of Texas,” he said.
“We’ve got to feel a sense of urgency, and if we do Congress can change; and if Congress changes, then America can change in ways we hope for,” Obama said. He added: “Do not get cynical.”
The chief executive’s Hollywood fundraising effort continues next week with the arrival of Michelle Obama in Los Angeles. HBO’s Michael Lombardo and his partner, architect Sonny Ward, will host a $5,000-per-person roundtable discussion on July 15 with the first lady to benefit the DNC.
The president, meanwhile, returns to Los Angeles on July 23 for a fundraiser hosted by Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes. Actress Kerry Washington is co-hosting the event, with tickets prices ranging from $1,000 to $32,400 per guest, according to an invite. On July 24, Obama will attend a roundtable discussion at the L.A. home of Live Nation’s Michael Rapino and wife Jolene Rapino. The $32,400-per-person event is limited to 30 guests.
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