Democratic Donors’ Big Question: What’s Plan B?


After a bruising 90-minute debate that underscored President Biden’s single-biggest weakness — concern about his age — Democratic donors exchanged panicked texts and emails with one question: What’s Plan B?

The 81-year-old Biden’s halting, shaky performance against a confident (if sometimes misleading) showing by Donald Trump has set off alarm among Democrats with just seven weeks before the Democratic National Convention and four months before the November election.

Some party faithful who were suppressing their doubts about Biden are now privately lobbying Democratic leaders and scouring rule books to figure out how to change the presidential ticket.

“Disaster,” one unnamed Democratic donor told CNBC after the debate, reflecting the mood among the party’s moneyed class. Other reactions included “absolute train wreck” and “game over.” “Do we have time to put somebody else in there?” Mark Buell, a well-known Democratic donor, told The Times.

Biden himself brushed off the concerns. But even Vice President Kamala Harris conceded that he’d had a “slow start” to the debate.

Biden skeptics said the performance justified their concerns. Many business leaders, including Elon Musk and the financier Bill Ackman, have bemoaned having to choose between Biden and Trump. After the debate, Ackman, who backed Dean Phillips in his Democratic presidential bid, posted to X that Trump was “going to win in a landslide. The country should rally around Trump and help him succeed.”

Before the debate, the libertarian investor Peter Thiel said that he would vote for Trump. But he added that he’d do so only if he were forced to vote for either him or Biden, and wouldn’t donate to the former president’s super PAC.

Some of these leaders — a number of whom have stayed silent on the race so far — may now be hoping they’ll have another choice.

Talk about changing the Democratic ticket has picked up. Political futures markets showed as much as a 28 percent decline in the chance of Biden remaining the party’s nominee. They also showed increasing interest in Harris and Gov. Gavin Newsom of California.

Other young governors have been discussed as potential candidates this election cycle, including Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania and Wes Moore of Maryland. And corporate backers have talked up Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, and Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary.

How would it work? Because there isn’t enough time for a primary challenge to Biden at this stage, any change would have to come around the Democratic Party convention. Delegates are generally bound to a candidate, but NBC News notes that they have a tiny amount of wiggle room to defect, which would lead to a contested convention — something that hasn’t happened in decades.

In all likelihood, Biden would have to willingly step down, and there’s no indication he is willing to do so. (Even if donors are getting antsy, the Democratic National Committee is stacked with Biden allies who likely wouldn’t entertain replacing him without his consent.)

That would mean an open convention — and the potential for chaos, as various candidates vie for the nomination. Despite being vice president, Harris would have no special advantage, and fares worse in polls than Biden.

Some important disclaimers:

  • State ballot deadlines are rapidly approaching, with nearly half set for sometime in August. Any change in the ticket after that would lead to legal questions, given that ballot printing will have started by then.

  • Harris and Newsom are known quantities, but tend to draw polarized reactions. After them, name recognition is scant, with little time to change that.

  • Changing the ticket could undermine the image of stability that Democrats have sought to emphasize as a contrast with Trump.

Democrats’ only hope may be that Biden can turn things around in the next few months, much as Ronald Reagan did after his disastrous first debate in 1984. Still, that’s little comfort to Democratic backers with severe cases of cold feet this morning.

Safety regulators rebuke Boeing for 737 Max disclosures. The National Transportation Safety Board said that the planemaker had “blatantly violated” rules around active investigations, after the company briefed reporters on Tuesday about new findings regarding a 737 Max 9 that lost a panel during a flight. Separately, Boeing is insisting that its Spaceliner test is going well even as a return flight for the two astronauts it flew into orbit remains unscheduled.

Nike’s stock sinks after missing analyst expectations. Shares in the sportswear giant were down more than 14 percent in premarket trading on Friday after it issued a weak global sales outlook, punctuated by “uneven” consumer spending. Investors worry the company needs a new hit product as rivals, including Adidas and Hoka, take market share.

Walgreens also suffers from weak consumer spending. The pharmacy chain lowered its profit outlook and said it would close more stores — up to a quarter of its U.S. locations — to cut costs. Retailers including Target, Walmart and Kohl’s have warned recently that lower-income customers have been spending less because of rising prices and depleted savings.

Time strikes a licensing deal with OpenAI. The publication, owned by the tech mogul Marc Benioff, will let the ChatGPT maker train its artificial intelligence models on its century’s worth of archives and let the chatbot draw on its real-time content to answer news queries. It’s the latest agreement between OpenAI and a news publisher. (The Times has sued OpenAI and its partner, Microsoft, over accusations of copyright infringement.)

President Biden and Donald Trump sparred over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in the debate. But for business leaders, the focus has been the rulings this week that weaken federal agencies and a bankruptcy maneuver used by companies to protect themselves from legal liabilities.

Here’s a recap:

The Supreme Court curbed the S.E.C.’s enforcement power. Conservatives have challenged the agency’s authority for years. A chief complaint: its use of in-house administrative judges, which they say deprives defendants of rights and protections they would get in a federal court.

A hedge fund manager challenged the process. The S.E.C. ruled that George Jarkesy had inflated asset values to earn higher fees. He appealed, saying the agency’s in-house process was illegitimate. The justices on Thursday sided with him in a 6-3 decision.

The decision could have a wider impact. The S.E.C. had expanded its use of in-house tribunals after the financial crisis but dialed it back as their legitimacy was attacked. Joseph Grundfest, a Stanford Law School professor and former S.E.C. commissioner, expects more lawsuits targeting other agencies that use similar administrative proceedings, like the F.T.C. and the National Labor Relations Board. “This is an invitation to litigation throughout the nation,” he told DealBook.

The Supreme Court also rejected an opioid settlement for the Sackler family. The justices on Thursday ruled against a deal that would have required the Purdue Pharma founders to pay up to $6 billion over 18 years to shield them from further liability. In a 5-4 ruling, the court said the settlement couldn’t stand because not all of the victims accepted it, and may want to continue suing.

Companies and nonprofits have used the bankruptcy system to avert mass litigation. They include the Boy Scouts of America and a number of Catholic dioceses that have faced sexual abuse lawsuits.

Claimants could push for more non-monetary concessions. “For cases that have yet to have plans confirmed or put into effect, the Supreme Court decision will be significant,” Melissa B. Jacoby, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of “Unjust Debts: How Our Bankruptcy System Makes America More Unequal” told DealBook. While the Boy Scouts deal has paid out millions, settlements like those with Catholic dioceses could be up for renegotiation.


The National Football League has lost a closely watched legal battle involving its lucrative Sunday Ticket broadcast package, in a decision that could have wider implications for sports media rights deals.

The potential damages are hefty. A federal court has ruled that the N.F.L. must pay almost $5 billion in damages — and that penalty could grow even bigger. In antitrust lawsuits like this, damages typically triple.

The N.F.L. said it would “contest this decision,” setting up a likely appeal.

A refresher: Sunday Ticket debuted in 1994 with media partner DirecTV. It packaged out-of-market games and resold them to fans as well as bars and other businesses. The plaintiffs successfully argued that the league inflated the price of the package.

A possible argument: The league could argue that, while it negotiated contracts collectively, it’s still pro-consumer because it broadcasts more than 90 percent of games for free, Gabriel Feldman, director of the Sports Law program at Tulane University, told The Times. Another lawyer told DealBook that because the penalty is so big, he wouldn’t be surprised if the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Two years ago, Alphabet’s YouTube won the bidding war for the Sunday Ticket rights in a deal that, at the time, was seen generating $2.5 billion annually. YouTube charges as much as $449 annually for a Sunday Ticket subscription, one of the priciest offerings anywhere for sports fans.

The N.F.L. has grown into a sports behemoth on the strength of huge ratings — more than 123 million viewers tuned into February’s Super Bowl — and a media strategy involving TV broadcasters and streaming partners that generates more than $10 billion annually.

The knock-on effects could be huge. The ruling throws into question the N.F.L.’s ability to cut exclusive media deals on behalf of teams. Beyond football, it could affect how other leagues sell their streaming packages to avoid getting sued themselves.

The media world is already watching the case of FuboTV, a live TV streaming platform, which has sued Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery, accusing them of anticompetitive behavior as they jointly develop a bundled streaming app.

  • In other sports media news: FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, is reportedly looking to raise as much as $2 billion to finance expansion of its streaming service.

Deals

  • Bill Ackman’s pending U.S. closed-end fund, Pershing Square USA, plans to sell shares for $50 each, though investors must buy a minimum of 100 shares. (Reuters)

  • How Volkswagen came to invest up to $5 billion in the electric vehicle maker Rivian: a secret C.E.O. meeting in Atlanta and a covert refit of Rivian technology in Audi cars in California. (Reuters)

Elections, politics and policy

  • The Biden campaign is pushing back against Project 2025, a proposed overhaul of the federal government compiled by former Trump officials that includes eliminating the Commerce Department and razing climate change research funding. (NYT)

  • Uber and Lyft agreed to give their drivers in Massachusetts a minimum wage and other benefits, in exchange for being allowed to continue to classify them as independent contractors. (NYT)

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