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Biden is telling his donors that Trump is out to destroy democracy

President Biden went to four fundraisers while he was in New York City attending the U.N. General Assembly, including this one at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway on Sept. 19.
Jim Watson
/
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden went to four fundraisers while he was in New York City attending the U.N. General Assembly, including this one at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway on Sept. 19.

It was a rousing reelection stump speech from President Biden, delivered to a theater full of enthusiastic supporters, where he jabbed at the Republican frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.

But you won't see a clip of it on cable news anytime soon. Biden was speaking at a private fundraising event where cameras aren't allowed — one of four such events he attended in Manhattan this week.

"Donald Trump and his MAGA Republicans are determined to destroy American democracy," Biden said at one of the fundraisers, where about 1,500 donors shelled out $250 to $7,500 to hear him speak alongside Broadway stars like Lin-Manuel Miranda and Josh Groban.

"I will always defend, protect, and fight for our democracy. That's why I'm running," Biden said.

While the president's public speeches focus on selling his administration's accomplishments, these closed-door donor events are where he's crystalizing his reelection pitch.

Biden says Trump seems 'destined to be the nominee again'

In his fundraiser remarks, Biden makes clear that defending democracy will be a central theme in his reelection campaign, just as it was in 2020 and in the 2022 midterms.

"I'm running because we've made progress, but our democracy is still at stake," Biden said. "I'm running because our most important freedoms — the right to choose, the right to vote, the right to be who you are, love who you love — these basic rights are being attacked. They're being shredded."

Biden rarely directly mentions Trump in public speeches. But to donors, he is far more direct.

"I don't believe America is a dark, negative nation — a nation of carnage driven by anger, fear and revenge," Biden said. "Donald Trump does."

Biden gave a similar take on Trump to a more intimate event a couple days later, when about 30 people gathered in the the Upper East Side home of Amy Goldman Fowler, a major donor to Democratic candidates and committees.

"It looks like he is destined to be the nominee again," Biden said, describing Trump.

Later, in a ballroom full of lawyers at the Intercontinental Barclay hotel, Biden described Trump during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

"I have a dining room, a private dining room off of the Oval Office. This guy sat there on January 6th watching what happened on television — watching it and doing nothing about it," Biden said, before describing a 2024 rematch against Trump.

"It's likely going to be the same fella, and I think I am going to beat him again," Biden said.

President Biden's Marine One helicopter lands on Wall Street on Sept. 17, 2023. The president was in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly — and to meet donors at campaign fundraising events.
Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
President Biden's Marine One helicopter lands on Wall Street on Sept. 17, 2023. The president was in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly — and to meet donors at campaign fundraising events.

Biden hasn't had a lot of campaign events yet. Those will come later

Biden may be reserving his harshest anti-Trump lines for private fundraisers because he hasn't had a lot of other campaign events yet. So far there have been only three public rallies to announce endorsements. Like most presidents seeking reelection, Biden isn't expected to begin actively campaigning until next year.

In the meantime, he is attending fundraisers to build up a campaign war chest and he's focusing on doing the job of president.

"I think it's a smart strategy to continue to have the two somewhat separated," said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist who worked on the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Finney said most Americans are not thinking much about the 2024 presidential campaign and would rather hear the president talking about things that affect their daily lives rather than politics.

"What Americans want to see right now, is to see him focused on running the country," said Finney.

President Biden waves after giving his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2023.
Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
President Biden waves after giving his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2023.

He's also making a lot of jokes about his age

At fundraisers, Biden is typically less guarded than in settings where cameras are present. His first reaction to the House impeachment inquiry came at a fundraiser last week in Northern Virginia.

He sometimes describes the people standing along his motorcade routes flipping him off or holding pro-Trump flags. And he often jokes about what is widely seen as his greatest weakness with voters: the fact that he is 80 years old.

"You may have noticed, a lot of people seem focused on my age," Biden said to laughter at the Broadway event this week. "Well, I get it, believe me. I know better than anyone."

He argued that his experience made him uniquely equipped to handle the COVID crisis and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And he ended his remarks with his usual line about optimism — with another joke embedded inside.

"I've never been more optimistic about our country's future in the 800 years I've served," Biden joked.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.