At Biden Fund-Raiser, Hollywood and Democrats Let the Trump Attacks Fly


A Hollywood fund-raiser Saturday night intended to bolster President Biden’s war chest turned into a platform for some of the most concerted and toughest attacks to date on former President Donald J. Trump by the Biden campaign, as entertainers, Barack Obama and even Jill Biden assailed Mr. Trump’s ethics and his suitability to return to the White House.

Ms. Biden, after being introduced by Barbra Streisand, said the choice was between her husband, “who honors the rule of law instead of trying to bend it to his way,” and Mr. Trump, “who wakes up every morning caring about one person and one person only: himself.”

“Mr. Trump has told us again and again why he wants the White House — to give himself absolute power, to not be held accountable for his criminal action,” Ms. Biden continued. His aim, she told the crowd, “was to destroy the democratic safeguards that stand in his way.”

Mr. Obama invoked Mr. Trump’s felony convictions — something that Mr. Biden has for the most part avoided doing — to applause from the crowd.

“We have the spectacle of the nominee of one of the two major parties sitting in court and being convicted by a jury of his peers on 34 counts,” Mr. Obama said. Listing off a series of what he described as offenses by Mr. Trump, he noted that “you have his organization being prosecuted for not paying taxes. Set aside all the other stuff he says —”

President Biden picked up his microphone: “He paid none.”

The tenor of the event in downtown Los Angeles was different from another star-studded fund-raiser just three months ago at Radio City Music Hall. The shift came after Mr. Trump was convicted by a New York jury on May 30 of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, a verdict that produced a surge of contributions from his supporters that narrowed the fund-raising gap between the two candidates and raised concerns among Democrats across the country, nowhere more than in Los Angeles.

It also added a twist to a fairly standard political event in Hollywood: Democratic candidates showing up to collect money from the heavily Democratic entertainment community.

George Clooney was there. So were Julia Roberts and Jimmy Kimmel, who asked Mr. Biden if the country had “Trump amnesia,” comparing those four years to “a colonoscopy” that people want to forget.

“Remember the pandemic,” Mr. Biden responded. “He said just don’t worry, just inject a little bleach.”

The event, at the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles, home to the annual Emmy Awards, helped to raise at least $28 million, his aides said, eclipsing the $26 million that the president drew three months ago at the fund-raiser at Radio City Music Hall.

The tone was set early on, when Ms. Streisand introduced the first lady.

“She’s the neighbor everyone wishes they have, not the type that suddenly flies an American flag upside down,” Ms. Streisand said to laughter and a few groans, referring to how Martha-Ann Alito, the wife of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., had flown an American flag upside down — a symbol associated with the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol — outside the couple’s home in Virginia.

The change in the political environment was one reason for the different tenor of the evening. Another was Mr. Kimmel, who offered far edgier — and leading — questions than Stephen Colbert, the late-night talk show host who questioned Mr. Biden, Mr. Obama and Bill Clinton at the Radio City Music Hall event.

“You did say you were fighting to restore the soul of America, and lately it does seem like we might need an exorcism,” Mr. Kimmel said at the top of the program, turning to Mr. Biden. “Is that why you visited the pope?”

“Uh,” Mr. Biden said, chuckling softly. “Yeah.”

When Mr. Kimmel mentioned the repeal of Roe that Trump-appointed justices on the Supreme Court helped orchestrate, the audience hissed. “Don’t hiss, vote!” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Biden said that “the next president is likely to have two more Supreme Court nominees,” adding, referring to Mr. Trump, “The idea that if he is re-elected, he’s going to appoint two more who are waving flags upside down, is —” He trailed off.

“The Supreme Court has never been as out of kilter as it is today,” Mr. Biden said.

He reminded the audience of the events of Jan. 6 and that Mr. Trump has lately used apocalyptic terms like “blood bath” and “retribution.”

Outside the theater complex on Olympic Boulevard, a line of black-clad police in helmets stood guard as about 100 protesters — wearing T-shirts reading “Cease-fire Now” and carrying signs saying “Stop the Gaza Homicide” — shouted at arriving guests. “There is blood on your hands!” they said.

“People are going in to fund Biden’s re-election campaign while he is arming Israel and funding a genocide against the people in Palestine,” said one of the demonstrators, Jodie Evans, 70, a political activist and documentary producer who lives in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The event came amid unease about Mr. Biden’s strengths as a candidate against Mr. Trump, especially after the former president’s recent spike in fund-raising.

“Hearing about the money made us nervous,” said David Mandel, the television showrunner who produced “Veep” and who is a prominent backer of the Biden campaign. “But it’s not like we were really confident and that made us nervous. We’ve been nervous for eight years. So this is nothing new.”

Mr. Mandel disputed comparisons between business leaders writing checks to Mr. Trump and what was on display from the wealthy entertainment industry on Saturday.

“Let me tell you what Julia Roberts and Jimmy Kimmel and Mark Hamill are not doing,” he said. “They are not asking Joe Biden to lower the corporate tax rate. They are not asking Joe Biden to lower their personal income tax rate.”

But for all its financial success — the money raised set a record for a Democratic fund-raising event, Mr. Biden’s campaign said — the event was a reminder of the risks for politicians when they try to mix Washington and Hollywood.

Mr. Biden shared a stage with Mr. Clooney, the actor who had lodged complaints with a White House official over the president’s criticism of the International Criminal Court.

The court had decided to seek a warrant against the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu; its defense minister; and three leaders of Hamas for illegal activities in waging a war in Gaza that has led to thousands of civilian deaths. Mr. Clooney’s wife, Amal Clooney, is a human rights lawyer who served on an advisory panel that helped conduct the investigation.

Mr. Biden, who departed a meeting of world leaders in Italy on Friday, skipping a farewell dinner to fly across 10 time zones to be in Los Angeles, made no mention of the complaints when he thanked supporters during his remarks.

The hall was filled with familiar faces from the world of entertainment, led by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood producer who has become one of Mr. Biden’s top behind-the-scenes advisers and who is chairing his 2024 campaign.

It was a night of mingling between Hollywood royalty and Democratic leaders from Washington to Sacramento. Bryan Lourd and Richard Lovett, who run the Creative Artists Agency, one of the most powerful talent agencies in town, posed for pictures with Mr. Clooney and Ms. Roberts. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, and Karen Bass, the mayor of Los Angeles were there, as well.

But the stakes were arguably higher here than they had been in New York. Republicans collected $50.5 million at a fund-raiser in Palm Beach, Fla., in April, then raised another $141 million in May. Tickets on Saturday night ranged from $250 a seat to $500,000 for a V.I.P. package.

Chad Griffin, a Hollywood-based Democratic consultant and a member of the party’s national finance committee, said the entertainment community was turning out in anticipation of this being “the most expensive election cycle in history” given the evidence of Mr. Trump’s fund-raising success and political support.

“I have never seen this town more motivated and more committed to a presidential election,” said Mr. Griffin, who began his career in politics working in the Clinton White House. “And I think it’s because there’s a clear understanding about what’s at stake and what it’s going to take to win in November.”

Reid J. Epstein, Brooks Barnes and George Johnston contributed reporting.



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