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Takeaways: Biden, Obama, Clinton try to boost Dem enthusiasm with NYC spectacle

Former presidents jab at Trump, who responds by calling Biden anti-police

Former President Bill Clinton, far right, watches as former President Barack Obama and President Joe Biden shake hands during a campaign fundraising event at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on Thursday night.
Former President Bill Clinton, far right, watches as former President Barack Obama and President Joe Biden shake hands during a campaign fundraising event at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on Thursday night. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — President Joe Biden and former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton raked in more than $25 million at a glitzy New York City fundraiser Thursday night, a show of unity that Republicans have struggled to match.

Political analysts for months have noted there appears to be more enthusiasm among Republican voters, with key blocs of the Democrats’ base — including Black, Latino and Arab American voters — frustrated with Biden for different reasons. Biden and other top Democratic officials hope the star-studded event will help whip up enthusiasm about his record as president — and prevent Trump’s return to the White House.

Biden — with Obama hitching a ride from Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C., to New York — came to the storied Radio City Music Hall with some political momentum. Some recent polls have shown him closing the gap with Trump or pulling ahead of the presumed GOP nominee in key swing states, and Biden is fresh off campaign stops in a number of key swing states, adding to his massive fundraising edge over Trump along the way.

The New York City event raised more than $25 million, according to Biden’s election campaign, selling more than 5,000 tickets.

“This historic raise is a show of strong enthusiasm for President Biden and Vice President Harris and a testament to the unprecedented fundraising machine we’ve built,” Biden 2024 campaign co-chair Jeffrey Katzenberg said in a statement.

He then took a shot at Trump: “Unlike our opponent, every dollar we’re raising is going to reach the voters who will decide this election. … The numbers don’t lie: [Thursday’s] event is a massive show of force and a true reflection of the momentum to reelect the Biden-Harris ticket.”

Biden’s campaign cash on hand at the end of February was more than $100 million higher than Trump’s, according to reports citing campaign filings. Trump has been using his campaign accounts to pay his legal bills in multiple criminal and civil cases, eroding his cash for rallies and other campaign functions.

Biden, Obama and Clinton, during a session moderated by CBS late-night host Stephen Colbert, covered a range of topics, from the Israel-Hamas war to the economy to Democrats’ health and economic records — and even Trump’s golf habit.

Here are four takeaways from Democrats’ big night in the Big Apple.

Protesters: ‘Let them go’

Biden’s potential Electoral College problem with pro-Palestinian voters followed him to New York. Demonstrators outside chanted and waved Palestinian flags, and protesters interrupted him inside the hall.

When Colbert asked the two former presidents what they miss about the job, the trio was interrupted, according to a pool reporter allowed into the event, by protesters “whistling and yelling obscenities about Russia and Ukraine,” and then by pro-Palestinian individuals.

Like an event Tuesday in potential battleground North Carolina, Biden asked security personnel to let the protesters have their say.

“That’s all right. Let them go. There’s a lot of people who are very, very — there are too many innocent victims, Israeli and Palestinian. We’ve got to get more food and medicine [and] supplies in to the Palestinians,” Biden said, reiterating his stance that Israel has a right to defend itself but Palestinians in Gaza must be helped.

“It’s understandable Israel has such a profound anger and Hamas is still there,” the president said. “But we must, in fact, stop the effort that is resulting in significant deaths of innocent [Palestinian] civilians, particularly children.”

Obama said Americans need to be more comfortable understanding that it is realistic to support Israel’s defense needs and the rights of Palestinians. All three endorsed a two-state solution, with Biden re-upping his call for a shelved plan under which he said Saudi Arabia was ready to normalize relations with Israel.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a former member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, said last week that “you’ve got to have a plan to make sure you can de-radicalize the Palestinian population.”

“And that’s going to require Saudi Arabia and the Arab world,” he said in a brief interview. “There is no solution to Hamas without the Arab world getting involved.”

Demonstrators rally before a major Democratic fundraiser Thursday evening at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. (Alex Kent/Getty Images)

‘Pardon all of them’

Biden went directly after Trump about the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, continuing a recent trend of directly criticizing his predecessor during public remarks and at fundraisers.

“He sat there in the dining room off the Oval Office for several hours and watched, didn’t do a damn thing,” Biden said — a version of the events of that day that matched former Trump White House aides who testified before the House’s Jan. 6 select committee.

“It’s not only that he said it wasn’t an insurrection, he says that what was happening was totally legitimate. That these people were patriots,” Biden said of Trump and the rioters. “He’s calling them patriots. … But the end result of it is he says … if he were to be freely elected, he’s going to pardon all of them. By the way, he means it. He means it.”

To that end, Trump at a recent rally called those individuals who have been convicted because of their actions on Jan. 6 “hostages.”

Obama then offered an assessment of the country’s composition that likely will rankle Republicans who want to drastically reduce immigration rates.

“We fought a civil war, and enormous struggles were fought to try to perfect our union,” he said. “And we, in our actions overseas, sometimes did not live up to our ideals. But what has always made America exceptional is this radical idea that you can get people from every corner of the globe.”

‘Fight on your behalf’

Clinton and Obama spent time touting Democrats’ collective record on issues like health care and the economy since the former took office in 1993. They criticized Trump’s record, saying they each oversaw more job growth than the 45th president.

Obama indirectly tried to explain Biden’s low overall poll numbers and a majority of voters’ dissatisfaction with his handling of the economy.

“And one of the things that all three of us accept when you have this extraordinary privilege of serving the American people is, if it’s happening on your watch, and even if you didn’t have anything to do with it, even if you’re making progress, there’s going to be frustrations and sometimes those will be directed towards your office. That’s part of the deal,” the 44th president said.

“But the thing that not only Joe has to communicate, we who support Joe have to communicate, is at the end of the day, who do you think is actually going to look out for you?” Obama said, suggesting Trump cannot relate to most Americans. “Who do you actually think is going to fight on your behalf? Who’s gone through tough financial times? Who has actually experienced the worry of a child getting sick and you try to figure out how you’re going to pay for it?

“And Joe has gone through those struggles.”

On the flip side, Trump and his surrogates often call Biden too cognitively hindered and “corrupt” to serve a second term.

Jabs at Trump

The presidential election will play out in swing states and courtrooms, where Trump still faces more than 80 criminal counts for alleged business fraud, his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and classified documents that he took from the White House to his Florida resort home and then, according to federal investigators, refused to return.

But perhaps the two candidates could face off on the links, especially since no general election debates have yet been scheduled.

“Look, I’d be happy to play. I told him this once before when he came into the Oval before he was sworn in,” Biden said of Trump, referring to a post-election visit to the White House when Trump was president-elect. “I said, ‘I’ll give you 3 strokes — but you carry your own bag.’”

Trump last weekend bragged on his social media site that he once again won one of his golf club’s annual members’ tournaments. But he added a new twist, claiming he also won the seniors tournament. The Biden campaign spent ample time this week mocking Trump’s golf habit, noting he has held few campaign events in recent weeks.

“I’ve only played 21 holes,” Biden said, “since I’ve been president.”

Always in counterprogramming mode, Trump appeared on Fox News Channel’s popular “Fox & Friends” morning program Friday in an attempt to cast Biden as anti-police over fallen New York City police officer Jonathan Diller’s death. Law enforcement officials said Diller was shot and killed by a man who had been previously arrested multiple times.

Trump visited with Diller’s widow on Thursday, but Biden did not attend his wake.

“I think that politically he can’t support the police,” Trump said of Biden. “I think he’s also making a mistake. But I think, politically, his base won’t let him support the police. And I support the police. I would say at the highest level of any president by far, maybe double or triple.”

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