President Joe Biden’s comments in public are scripted and measured, but he increasingly gets raw and honest at fundraisers and invitation-only events.
Biden’s comments in more intimate settings on everything from foreign policy to Republican lawmakers to Donald Trump often can create political headaches and bring staff walk-backs.
But if you want to know what the president really thinks, the best place to find out is at an event that requires a ticket — and sometimes that comes with a big price tag as his campaign organization and the Democratic Party look to fill their 2024 coffers.
Membership in elite Democratic circles has its advantages.
For anyone wondering what the GOP’s 2024 front-runner, Trump, thinks, just pull up his social media account or find a replay of a recent political rally. The differences are stark — and telling.
Should voters have to pay thousands of dollars to get in an exclusive room or be among the most plugged-in to learn the president sees Israel losing support around the world, and therefore he believes embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to change his views opposing a two-state solution in the Middle East? Biden said just that during a Democratic fundraiser on Dec. 12.
The previous evening, during a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House, Biden told a who’s who of invited guests that he rarely agrees with very much that Netanyahu has to say — and hasn’t over their collective decades in public service.
Biden said Netanyahu has a photograph on his desk from when Biden was a 32-year-old senator. He said he wrote this on the photo: “BiBi, I love you but I don’t agree with a damn thing you have to say. And it’s about the same today.”
Biden also is more candid about his views of Trump and his prospects to return to the presidency than he is in public remarks, when he has seemed reluctant to utter the name of the former president. The way anyone not on these guest lists knows in real time about Biden’s closed-door candor is from members of White House press pools, who are typically allowed into part of his fundraiser remarks and chronicle invitation-only White House events; the White House also releases transcripts of some fundraiser remarks, though usually well after the events.
From a sprawling Los Angeles estate to upscale residences and hotels in the Washington, D.C., area to a mountain villa in Utah to a swanky townhouse in Manhattan, Biden has been dropping truth bombs at fundraisers in some of America’s most exclusive addresses. Republicans have noticed.
“Biden arrives in California, where he’ll spend the weekend schmoozing Hollywood celebrities and other leftist elites at a series of high-dollar fundraisers,” the Republican National Committee’s research arm wrote on X on Dec. 9, atop a video of Biden arriving in California to rake in more campaign cash.
The RNC also noted the closed-door nature of the coming presidential remarks, adding: “He descended the short [Air Force One] stairs, as usual, and took no questions.”
Once inside the estate, Biden teed off on a number of topics. He warned about a threat from a second Trump term, something he reiterated at a separate fundraiser three days later on the East Coast.
“Donald Trump poses a lot of threats to this country. From the right to choose to civil rights, voting rights, to America’s standing in the world,” he told donors at that Dec. 12 fundraiser at the swanky Salamander Hotel in Washington, D.C. “The greatest threat of all Trump poses is to our democracy. If we lose that, we lose everything.”
Biden was just getting started. He soon pivoted to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot and Trump’s actions that day that led to one of his federal indictments.
“You may remember, on Jan. 6, Trump sitting in his private dining room off the Oval Office, for hours, watching it all unfold on TV,” Biden said. “The mob attacking the Capitol Police, killing, desecrating the Capitol.”
The sitting president has not talked much publicly this year about some of Trump’s most extreme remarks of the 2024 election cycle. But the opposite has been true in recent weeks behind closed doors.
“He’s threatening to use the American military on the streets of America to go after his political opponents,” he said at the Salamander. “Unlike Trump, we don’t believe America is … a dark and negative nation driven by anger, fear and revenge.”
Such a message very well could become part of Biden’s 2024 closing argument. But, despite a slew of polls showing him trailing Trump and others showing deep frustration with his term, Biden has saved his most candid words for folks writing checks or powerful enough to warrant a ticket to a White House shindig.
After his approval rating climbed back above 40 percent, the Gallup organization’s most recent poll showed it at 37 percent. Some Democratic lawmakers and strategists say there has been too much drama and hand-wringing surrounding Biden’s poll numbers. They often point to Barack Obama, and they have a point. His approval rating at a comparable time in 2011, as he was gearing up for a reelection bid, was 43 percent, according to Gallup.
But a Monmouth University survey released this week put Biden’s approval rating at 34 percent, a record low in that poll. On two issues atop voters’ minds, inflation and immigration, Biden was in serious trouble. His approval rating on dealing with still-high prices was 28 percent, according to the Monmouth poll. And on immigration, it stood at 26 percent.
After that poll was released, Biden was back at it during a Tuesday fundraiser in the upscale D.C. suburb of Bethesda, Md.
“This weekend Trump was embracing his old pal Putin,” he said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Trump even quoted him this weekend. That’s no surprise. After all, there’s a lot of agreement between Moscow and Mar-a-Lago.”
He also alluded to recent inflammatory Trump comments about his foes being “vermin” and a remark that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.”
“The language he uses reminds us of the language coming out of Germany in the ’30s,” Biden said, referring to the 1930s. “He has called those who oppose him ‘vermin,’ and again this weekend he talked about the blood of our country being poisoned. Even conservative Republicans have spoken out.”
Modern elections are expensive. But Biden’s habit of being more honest with his closest supporters also could come with a high cost.