President Barack Obama laid out a sobering view of the international crises that have beset his administration this year — and tried to make the case for returning Democrats to the Senate majority — at a small gathering of political donors in Baltimore on Friday.
Speaking at the home of a hedge fund manager who is among the country's foremost advocates for Israel, Obama said the Islamic State fighters who have taken over portions of Iraq and Syria have displayed "the kind of brutality that even by the standards of terrorists is extraordinary."
The president's visit to Baltimore, landing at Sun Park at Port Covington, snarling traffic in some quarters of the city and drawing protests in others, came two days after he addressed the nation to describe his strategy to confront the fighters. Obama briefly visited Fort McHenry, a focal point of the city's festivities this week for the 200th anniversary of the British defeat during the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key's poem that became the national anthem.
"We live in deeply troubled times internationally — challenging times," Obama said at the Cheswolde home of Howard E. Friedman, a former president of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.
"What gives me confidence is that we're on the right side of history here," he said.
Notably, the president mentioned neither the tense cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas nor Iran, though those issues likely came up during an hourlong question-and-answer session that followed his remarks and occurred after reporters had been ushered out of earshot.
Donors paid $10,000 to $32,400 to attend the event, which benefited the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The fundraiser was the eighth the president has headlined for Senate Democrats this year.
Democrats are defending nearly a dozen competitive Senate seats in the midterm elections, and Republicans hope the president's low popularity in battleground states will allow them to pick up the six the party needs to capture the majority.
A spokesman for the Republican National Committee dismissed Obama's trip.
"Despite all the turmoil in the world it seems President Obama is back to his No. 1 priority: political fundraising," Ryan Mahoney said in a statement.
Obama's travels through Baltimore were less public than during his last visit, in May 2013, when he toured a local manufacturing company and a school. Still, hundreds of people lined the streets to wave, cheer and snap photos as his motorcade sped through Locust Point and then North Baltimore.
Others came to protest, including one woman who held a sign that read, "Stop fundraising, fight terrorism."
The state's largest immigrant rights group, CASA de Maryland, said it planned to stage a rally near the fundraiser over objections to the president's decision to delay executive action on immigration enforcement until after the election.
Before the fundraiser, Obama joined Gov. Martin O'Malley and several members of the state's congressional delegation at Fort McHenry. The president peered through a glass case at the original manuscript of "The Star-Spangled Banner," which is on display at the park's visitor center.
"If the Declaration of Independence is the birth certificate of the United States, that's the high school diploma," Vincent Vaise, the chief of interpretation at the fort, told the president.
Obama returned to Washington after the fundraiser, but Baltimore will remain a destination for high-profile guests over the next few days. Vice President Joe Biden will speak at a concert at the fort today as part of the festivities marking the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of what became the national anthem.