President Barack Obama addressed wealthy donors in San Francisco this week, including at one event held in the lavish home of a super-wealthy opponent of the proposed Keystone XL tar-sands oil pipeline.

Protestors at an Obama fundraiser in the exclusive San Francisco neighborhood of Pacific Heights
Protestors at an Obama fundraiser in the exclusive San Francisco neighborhood of Pacific Heights.
Rebecca Bowe / San Francisco Bay Guardian

He didn’t tell the donors whether his administration planned to approve the pipeline, which if it leaks will spew the same sticky bitumen that’s coating Mayflower, Ark. But he did talk about the environment. And he wants his wealthy, environment-appreciating donors to know that environmental causes are a tough sell.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Obama appears to be leaning toward the approval of the pipeline, although he did not specifically mention it to the donors. But he acknowledged that it is hard to sell aggressive environmental action — like reducing pollution from power plants — to Americans who are still struggling in a difficult economy to pay bills, buy gas and save for retirement.

“You may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it’s probably not rising to your No. 1 concern,” Mr. Obama said. “And if people think, well, that’s shortsighted, that’s what happens when you’re struggling to get by.”

Mr. Obama delivered his remarks to a group that hardly needs to worry economically: Thomas F. Steyer, the hedge-fund billionaire, and his wife, Kat Taylor, along with 100 guests at their home who each paid $5,000 to $32,400. The event was the first of four over two days in Northern California, the president’s first fund-raising drive in hopes of winning a friendlier Congress in 2014. …

The challenge for Mr. Obama is to find a way to balance the political demands of supporters like Mr. Steyer, who has criticized the pipeline, with the insistence of Republicans, Canadian officials and some unions that the pipeline will create jobs and lower the cost of fuel in the United States. The president also faces pressure from some members of his party who argue that the economic benefits of the pipeline are too important to ignore. Last month, 17 Democratic senators signed on to an amendment backing construction of the pipeline. Included in the group were seven senators from conservative or swing states who are up for re-election in 2014.

In the face of those pressures, at the fund-raiser on Wednesday — and at a second one at the home of the billionaire philanthropists Ann and Gordon Getty — the president sought to reassure his supporters that he would continue to fight for environmentally friendly policies.

Obama might not have mentioned the pipeline during his talk, but plenty of protestors outside the Gettys’ home showed up to chant about it. From the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

Around 6 p.m. [Wednesday], protesters gathered to parade past the rows of mansions, braving the chilly mist as they sang, chanted and waved signs opposing the pipeline. “If the environment were a bank, it would have been saved already,” one handmade cardboard sign read.

Police set up barricades to restrict access to the Getty residence, and when protesters spilled into the nearby intersection of Broadway and Divisadero, police officers stationed on the street with megaphones joined with motorcycle cops in urging the crowd backward onto the sidewalk, creating a tight squeeze.

Chants included phrases like, “What do we say to the president? No pipeline for the one percent!” And, “Hey, Obama, we don’t want no pipeline drama.” The action was organized by a host of prominent environmental organizations including 350.org, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Credo Action, and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).