A few years after Harold and Kumar visited White Castle -- but before they escaped from Guantanamo Bay -- Kumar Patel's real-life alter ego, Kal Penn, served a two-year-stint as the associate director of the White House's Office of Public Engagement. In 2008, the House and 24 star campaigned in 26 states for Barack Obama, and Penn followed the President into the big building after that work paid off. Today, he's making the rounds again: Penn stopped by the Organizing For America Colorado Youth Summit to encourage youth to vote (for Obama).
Penn (real name Kalpen Modi) left House for Washington D.C. in 2009 before returning to Hollywood in 2011. In between, he served as Obama's Liaison to Young Americans and took a role in the National Arts Policy Committee on top of his work in the Public Engagement Office. During the months running up to the November election, Penn is again splitting his time between politics and the screen.
On Wednesday, the man upstairs stopped in Denver for a presidential fundraiser, one of several trips to Colorado in the past few months. (His April visit to CU Boulder -- and the Sink -- even produced two new restaurant specials.) But his former White House co-worker, Penn, focused specifically on the youth vote with a presentation dedicated to presenting Obama as the candidate who best understands young Americans today.
At 10:45 a.m., Penn launched the summit with a speech dedicated to Obama's accomplishments and his own personal experience working with the President. His presence attracted three young picketers outside the 9th and Broadway building and more than sixty supporters inside it, while organizers continued to add extra chairs to the assembly to support a growing crowd.
In 2008, millions of young people helped to push the President into office with their votes, Penn told the crowd, and "it was not a journey anyone did on their own.... Just the fact that we have a full room in the morning means a lot of you share that passion."
From here, early morning college jokes replaced his franchise character's frequent marijuana cracks as Penn spoke to an audience dominated by high school and college students about Mitt Romney's economic strategies, which he calls "a little disturbing," and compared them to "failed, Bush-era policies." In recounting Obama's successes, Penn cited the President's efforts to increase federal Pell Grant funds, allow youth to stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26, stand up for marriage equality and repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." "Obviously, it doesn't hurt that Osama Bin Laden's gone," he joked, adding, "For me, it's not just what the President's done, but how he's fought for young Americans behind the scenes. Like a lot of you guys, President Obama and the First Lady took out quite a bit of student loans."
Click through for additional photos and quotes. In his speech to the young audience members, many of whom cannot vote yet, Penn shared anecdotes about his interaction with the President. During his work for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in October 2009, Penn visited the White House over the weekend with an intern to prepare for a meeting with Obama the following week -- only to run into the commander in chief on accident and engage in impromptu small talk about the initiative.
"James (my intern) was like, 'Can I call my mom?'" Penn joked. He stressed Obama's open nature and respect for youth and urged those in attendance to vote for the President to be re-elected in November. "Voting and talking to your friends has a huge impact," Penn says. "It's what helped get President Obama to office in 2008."
After his speech, Penn used his smart phone to take a photo of the crowd -- which he tweeted (above) later on. In the meantime, Penn partnered with youth groups throughout the summit to discuss topics such as health care, consumer protection, LGBT issues, higher education, Iraq and Afghanistan and the economy.
More from our Politics archive: "Videos: Rachel Maddow, MSNBC make Mike Coffman birther star."
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