President Joe Biden’s top political supporters have complained about being shunned for most of his first two years in the White House, and many have complained about the perceived lack of gratitude from a team they helped finance the victory.
But everything is changing.
As Biden and party officials look to the 2024 presidential election — and on the heels of better-than-expected legislative victories and midterm results — the same White House that sent chills down its spines players is heating up now.
“Is it a surprise?” Alan Kessler, a longtime fundraiser in the Philadelphia area, said. “We are at the midpoint. Guess what’s the next election? Frankly, I think they are doing the right thing.
The White House is stepping up its donor footfall, a strategy that is most evident in a rain of social invitations for heavyweight supporters: this week’s state dinner for French President Emmanuel Macron, the arrival and illumination of the National Christmas Tree, Biden’s Christmas parties and Vice President Kamala Harris’ Hanukkah celebration among them. They’re offering more policy briefings to longtime supporters, Zoom calls with senior administration officials, and White House tours as well.
Donors have taken notice and are already praising the change from a team they have long complained was unavailable to answer questions in Biden’s darkest political times, according to interviews with more than 20 people. . who have contributed to Biden, raised funds for him or helped secure White House invitations for his supporters.
An expanded social calendar means “they go down a bit further down the list” in terms of who has time facing the president, a White House official said. And it could pay dividends for Biden if he runs in 2024.
Retaining donors is a critical step for the administration if Biden seeks re-election and even beyond, when he likely wants to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for a presidential library.
Despite all the Biden administration victories and the lack of a midterm bombing, the president’s poll numbers remain underwater, with an NBC poll taken just before the Nov. 8 election showing him at 44%.
A perhaps more ominous sign, however, is that two-thirds of midterm voters polled in an NBC exit poll said they did not want Biden to run for re-election.
“All of a sudden,” said Alan Patricof, a longtime Democratic fundraiser, “things start to change as we approach the next election.”
On Thursday, when Macron arrives at the White House for his official state visit, Biden campaign supporters and fundraisers will be among a large crowd invited to watch the ceremony on the White House lawn. It is Biden’s first state dinner since taking office in 2021. It will honor Macron and celebrate the United States’ longstanding ties with France. State dinners have been a feature of the US presidency since 1874, but Covid had so far limited the administration’s ability to hold such events.
“For one of the first times in this administration, supporters of the president – some at least – will be invited,” according to a person familiar with the White House’s views on the matter. “And that, in essence, is a return to a degree of normality that you see in any administration.”
People close to the White House admit that Biden’s political operation has left longtime Democratic fundraisers feeling marginalized and unappreciated. They point to the pandemic as the main reason Biden has avoided outreach that donors see as a reward for past work and an incentive to raise more campaign money ahead of the 2024 election.
The source with knowledge of the White House thought, on condition of anonymity to speak freely, noted that the pandemic has “proven to be incredibly difficult when it comes to gathering indoors in these extraordinary spaces. Now that we are testing safely, we can start again. I believe there have been many more events where we are able to bring people together again. This has always been the vision of the first lady and the president. It’s just a matter of good timing. »
Among those invited to the state dinner on behalf of Macron on Thursday night is Christopher Korge, chairman of the Democratic National Committee’s finance committee, people familiar with the planning said.
“It’s the hottest ticket in town; everybody wants to go,” said the person familiar with the White House’s take on outreach to its donors.
In the past, White Houses have rewarded donors with significant perks, some of which have generated controversy, such as overnight stays in the Lincoln Room during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Yet some donors also point out that Biden has never been as class-conscious of the buck-raking as Clinton, the gold standard of the modern presidency.
Biden is “less concerned, less interested, less involved” than Clinton or former President Barack Obama, Patricof said. “I haven’t been to the White House since he was elected. It’s not like I’m waiting here. But there seems to be a lot less interaction with the donor community than I’ve seen in the past.
This year, Biden donors are captivated by something much simpler: The White House is opening its doors for the holiday season with parties and tours scheduled throughout December. And some who spoke to NBC News acknowledged that their worth isn’t what it once was, noting that Biden has managed to make big money online for small donors.
“People at $500,000 like me, we’re not going to be gamers in 2024,” said Dick Harpootlian, a longtime Democratic donor and South Carolina state senator.
For the White House, the change is an acceleration of a courtship campaign that began more modestly before the midterm elections. As Biden won a handful of major legislative victories this year — including laws aimed at tackling climate change and China’s edge in semiconductor manufacturing — the White House has invited a wide array of supporters to be celebrated at bill-signing ceremonies. Guests also went to an Elton John concert at the White House.
Biden’s advocates have long said the White House is closed to many of the president’s allies because he took office during a time of much greater sensitivity to the Covid-19 pandemic. Amid concerns over the omicron variant last year, the White House was forced to scrap plans for a more comprehensive holiday package. But there is no such limitation this year.
“They only invite an obscene number of people” to the December events, a Democratic official said.
The new level of TLC is a sign of a Biden team preparing for a possible re-election campaign and comes after top fundraisers urged Biden aides to change tack.
“I encourage them to court more big donors,” one said over the summer. Part of their argument was that the president will need donors in 2024 far more than was needed in 2020 during a pandemic and when Democrats were eagerly opening their wallets to oust Donald Trump from the Oval Office.
Biden’s engagement with donors is important for another reason, top fundraisers have told aides: Donors wonder if he’s able to run again, which leaves them hesitant to keep cutting back. the checks. A prominent Democratic fundraiser said donors routinely ask the president, “Is he really okay with it?
Donors who spoke to NBC News said they noticed a change in the way they are treated, including making a more conscious effort to arrange phone calls with supporters, more regular briefings and even photo lines during visits like Obama to swing states during exams. The increased effort involves both the White House and a Democratic National Committee that functions as the political arm of Biden’s operation.
“The DNC has been virtually inactive for two years,” said a committee member. “They are stepping up their game.”
Different donors had different expectations. Tim Lim, a Democratic strategist and Biden bundler, was among those frustrated with the White House’s attention to donors, taking his complaint to the Democratic National Committee.
“It’s childish, frankly. I even admit it now,” Lim said. “There is no reason to do so. But when you’re trying to get an Easter Egg Roll ticket for your family, you’re a bit desperate.
The White House’s shift in paying more attention to supporters was evident, he said, citing invitations to a garden tour, the unveiling of Obama’s White House portrait, sleight of hand- passes at the White House as well as end-of-year celebrations.
Another donor, who has complained in the past about not having enough access, cited a recent Zoom call with White House senior adviser Steve Ricchetti and deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon who s addressed some of Biden’s earliest supporters. Some of those same people have been invited to the White House next month for an in-person policy briefing.
Some donors, however, believe the White House has taken too long to step up its game.
“The development took longer than expected,” said Susie Tompkins Buell, a longtime Democratic donor with a big budget. She said supporters recognized the administration was consumed by “excessive workloads and trauma” early on.
“I think the donors understand, but communication definitely needs more effective attention,” Buell added. She said she saw more examples of the White House acknowledging that it needed to appreciate donors, but it “seems like it wasn’t a natural instinct.”
A recurring question throughout this administration has been whether Biden, who turned 80 last week, will mount another campaign or step down.
Kessler said he spoke to Biden in late October at a Pennsylvania Democratic Party event and thanked him for recently stating his intention to run again.
“I know you’re tired of hearing, ‘Does he really run?'” Kessler recalled telling the president. “But when you make strong statements like that, it’s really helpful for people like me who get asked all the time.”
And how did Biden respond?
“He liked it,” Kessler said.