BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — President Barack Obama unleashed a torrent of frustration Thursday night over Washington gridlock and acknowledged he has not been able to bring the hope and change to America's political system that he campaigned on.
Obama told donors at a Democratic Party fundraiser hosted by filmmaker Tyler Perry that he has struggled "mightily" against division in politics but the system "still is broken."
"The problem is that too often the political system doesn't reflect the common sense and decency of the American people," Obama said. Speaking on the day of the arrest of a white man accused of shooting dead nine at a black church in South Carolina, Obama decried inaction over gun control, poverty, stagnant incomes, criminal justice reform and equal opportunity.
He spoke of a Colorado man who wrote him a letter decrying all that had not been accomplished during his presidency. Obama said the man wrote that he voted for him twice but was "deeply disappointed."
"He thought that when I got to Washington I could bring people together and make them work more effectively, and the fact of the matter is that Washington is still gridlocked and still seems obsessed with the short-term and the next election instead of the next generation," Obama said. "And on that issue, I had to tell him, 'You're right. I am frustrated and you have every right to be frustrated because Congress doesn't work the way it should."
Obama spoke in a tent set up on the lawn of Perry's hilltop home in the gated Beverly Ridge Estates, one of four fundraisers with tickets as high as $33,400 he's headlining for Democrats, even as the party's lawmakers are standing in the way of his trade agenda from winning final approval. He also planned to appear with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who broke with Obama on the trade vote last week, in a fundraiser in her San Francisco district on Friday.
Obama did not mention the family feud at Perry's house, attended by about 250 donors including "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner and star January Jones, former NBA basketball player Jason Collins, former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos. He instead criticized the political system.
"The incentives that are built into the system reward short term, reward a polarized politics, reward being simplistic instead of being true, reward division. And as mightily as I have struggled against that, I told him, 'You're right. It still is broken.'"
He said one of the biggest focuses of the last year and a half of his presidency is trying to convince Americans that they must act for the change they want.
"If you're dissatisfied that every few months we have a mass shooting in this country killing innocent people, then I need you to mobilize and organize a constituency that says this is not normal and we are going to change it and put pressure to elect people who insist on that change," he said to sustained applause. "If you're concerned about racial polarization in this country, it's nice to have dialogues around race, but me making a good speech — and I've made some good speeches on the subject — that's not going to solve the problem. What are you doing to reach out in your own community?"
While in California for four days, Obama also plans to address the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco, sit for an hourlong podcast interview with comedian Marc Maron in his Los Angeles-area garage studio and spend Father's Day weekend in Palm Springs, a favorite golf destination.
The fundraiser with Pelosi is expected to draw more than 50 donors to the Sea Cliff home of retired hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer. He also was headlining two private discussions attended by about 30 donors each — one Thursday afternoon hosted by television series creator Chuck Lorre in Los Angeles and a second planned Friday in San Francisco hosted by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar.
Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nedrapickler