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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

At Biden fundraiser, Hollywood and Democrats let the Trump attacks fly

Law enforcement officers respond to protesters near a campaign event with President Joe Biden outside the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 15, 2024. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

By Swan McCreesh and Adam Nagourney

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

Jill 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 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,” Biden continued. His aim, she told the crowd, “was to destroy the democratic safeguards that stand in his way.”

Obama invoked Trump’s felony convictions — something that Joe 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,” Obama said. Listing off a series of what he described as offenses by Trump, he noted that “you have his organization being prosecuted for not paying taxes. Set aside all the other stuff he says —”

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

The tenor of the event in downtown Los Angeles was different from another star-studded fundraiser just three months ago at Radio City Music Hall. The shift came after 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 fundraising 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 Joe Biden if the country had “Trump amnesia,” comparing those four years to “a colonoscopy” that people want to forget.

“Remember the pandemic,” 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 fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall.

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

“She’s the neighbor everyone wishes they have, not the type that suddenly flies an American flag upside down,” Streisand said to laughter and a few groans, referring to how Martha-Ann Alito, the wife of Justice Samuel Alito, 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 Kimmel, who offered far edgier — and leading — questions than Stephen Colbert, the late-night talk show host who questioned Joe Biden, 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,” Kimmel said at the top of the program, turning to Biden. “Is that why you visited the pope?”

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

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

Biden said that “the next president is likely to have two more Supreme Court nominees,” adding, referring to Trump, “The idea that if he is reelected, 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,” Biden said.

He reminded the audience of the events of Jan. 6 and that 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 reelection 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 Biden’s strengths as a candidate against Trump, especially after the former president’s recent spike in fundraising.

“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.”

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

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