7 Activists Arrested After Demanding PEPFAR Authorization at McCarthy’s Office

Several protesters were taken into custody after they stormed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building on Monday. The demonstrators were demanding the reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program that has garnered attention and debate in recent months.

Video footage captured the protesters entering Speaker McCarthy’s office and repeatedly shouting, “Pass PEPFAR now McCarthy!” while some sat down in his office to continue their rallying cry. Among the demonstrators was an individual wearing a shirt that read “HIV-Positive,” and signs with messages like “end AIDS” were displayed prominently.

U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) stepped in to intervene and subsequently arrested seven protesters on charges of “unlawful entry.”

In a statement, USCP explained, “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.”

The protest was jointly organized by two advocacy groups, Health GAP and Housing Works. Charles King, the CEO of Housing Works, was among those arrested during the demonstration.

“PEPFAR has saved millions of lives. It is criminal for some members of Congress to treat it as a political football,” King stated. “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.”

He also emphasized the United States’ commitment to the international goal of ending AIDS by 2030 and stressed the importance of protecting PEPFAR to achieve that goal.

Lawmakers face a looming deadline of September 30 to provide additional funding to the PEPFAR program, which is credited with saving an estimated 25 million lives. However, the reauthorization of PEPFAR has been met with controversy, particularly among some Republicans who raise concerns about the program indirectly supporting abortions.

The Washington Post reported that “lawmakers have spent months wrangling over whether Congress will reauthorize the program for five years, for one year or not at all — a decision that experts warn has both practical and symbolic consequences.”

These accusations have centered around claims that PEPFAR funds might be indirectly funneled to abortion providers, allegations initially made in a report by the conservative Heritage Foundation in May. Representative Christopher H. Smith, an antiabortion Republican who chairs a key House panel, has amplified these concerns.

Health GAP shared video footage of the protest, applauding their activists who continued to voice their demands even as they were arrested.

“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!” the group declared.

Many on social media have drawn comparisons between this protest and the events of January 6 when some individuals breached the U.S. Capitol and entered then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. The contrast in responses to these incidents has sparked significant public discussion and debate.