President Joe Biden’s main political supporters complained about being shut out for most of his first two years in the White House, with many complaining about the apparent lack of gratitude from a team whose victory they helped finance.
But all that is changing.
With Biden and party officials looking ahead to the 2024 presidential election, and following legislative victories and better-than-expected midterm results, the same White House that gave its high rollers the cold shoulder is now embracing them. sympathy.
«Is it any surprise?» Alan Kessler, a longtime Philadelphia-area fundraiser. “We have already finished the partial exams. Guess which election is next? Frankly, I think they’re doing the right thing.»
The White House is stepping up its courtship of donors, a strategy most evident in a barrage of social invitations for big-dollar supporters: this week’s state dinner for French President Emmanuel Macron, the arrival and lighting of the national Christmas tree, Biden’s Christmas parties. and Vice President Kamala Harris’ Hanukkah celebration among them. They are offering more policy briefings to longtime supporters, Zoom calls with top administration officials and visits to the White House, too.
Donors have taken notice and are already hailing the turnaround from a team they have long complained about being unavailable to answer questions in political times darker for Biden, according to interviews with more than 20 people. who contributed to Biden, raised money for him or helped secure White House invites for his supporters.
An expanded social calendar means «they’re moving down the list a bit more» in terms of who gets face time with the president, a White House official said. And that could pay dividends for Biden if he runs in 2024.
Donor maintenance is a critical step for the administration should Biden seek re-election and even beyond, when he will likely want to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for a presidential library.
Despite all the Biden administration victories and the absence of a midterm blowout, the president’s polling numbers remain underwater, with one NBC poll conducted just before the November 8 election. showing it to 44%.
Perhaps a 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.
“Suddenly,” said Alan Patricof, a longtime Democratic fundraiser, “things start to change as we get closer to the next election.”
On Thursday, when Macron arrives at the White House for his official state visit, supporters of the Biden campaign and fundraisers will be among a large crowd invited to watch the ceremony on the White House lawn. It is the first state dinner Biden has hosted since he took office in 2021. It will honor Macron and celebrate the United States’ longstanding ties to France. State dinners have been a hallmark of the US presidency since 1874, but Covid had curbed the administration’s ability to host such events until now.
“For the first time in this administration, supporters of the president, at least some of them, will be invited,” according to a person familiar with the White House view on the matter. «And that, in essence, is a return to a degree of normalcy that you see in any administration.»
People close to the White House admit that Biden’s political operation has left longtime Democrat fundraisers feeling marginalized and unappreciated. They point to the pandemic as the main reason Biden has avoided the outreach that donors see as a reward for past work and an incentive to raise more campaign money before the 2024 election.
The source with knowledge of the White House thinking, who was granted anonymity to speak freely, noted that the pandemic “proved incredibly challenging when it comes to coming together indoors in these extraordinary spaces. Now that we’re testing safely, we can do it again. I think there have been a much greater number of events where we can bring people together again. That has always been the vision of the first lady and the president. It’s just a matter of choosing the right moment.»
Among the guests at 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.
“This is the most popular ticket in the city; everyone wants to go,” said the person familiar with the White House view on its outreach to donors.
In the past, the White Houses have rewarded donors with large benefits, some of which have sparked controversy, such as overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Yet some donors also point out that Biden has never been as attentive to the moneymaking class 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 in the White House since he was elected. It’s not like he’s sitting here waiting. But there seems to be a lot less interaction with the donor community than I’ve seen in the past.»
This year, Biden’s donors are captivated by something much simpler: The White House opens its doors for the holiday season with parties and tours scheduled throughout December. And some who spoke to NBC News acknowledged that his value is no longer what it once was, noting that Biden managed to raise a lot of money online from small donors.
“$500,000 people like me, we’re not going to be gamers in 2024,” said Dick Harpootlian, a longtime Democratic donor and state senator from South Carolina.
For the White House, the change is an acceleration of a courtship campaign that began more modestly before the midterm elections. As Biden racked up a handful of major legislative victories this year, including laws aimed at combating climate change and China’s advantage in semiconductor manufacturing, the White House invited a wide range of supporters to celebrate at bill signing ceremonies. Of law. Invitations to an Elton John concert at the White House were also sent out.
Biden’s defenders have long said the White House was closed to many of the president’s allies because he took office during a period of much heightened sensitivity to the Covid-19 pandemic. Amid concerns over the omicron variant last year, the White House was forced to drop plans for a fuller series of Christmas parties. But there is no such limitation this year.
“They are inviting 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 It comes after major fundraisers urged Biden aides to change tack.
“I encourage them to court more big donors,” one of them said over the summer. Part of his argument has been that the president will need far more donors in 2024 than he did 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 question whether he’s up to running again, making them hesitant to continue cutting checks. A major Democratic fundraiser said donors regularly ask the president: «Is he really okay with it?»
Donors who spoke to NBC News said they have noticed a change in the way they are treated, including a more conscious effort to set up phone calls with supporters, more regular briefings and even photo lines during visits like the one Obama did. in key states during the midterms. The stepped-up effort involves both the White House and a Democratic National Committee that functions as the political arm of the Biden operation.
“The DNC has been practically inactive for two years,” said a committee member. “They are upping their game.”
Different donors have had different expectations. Tim Lim, a Democratic strategist and Biden backer, was among those frustrated with the White House’s attention to donors, and filed his complaint with the Democratic National Committee.
“It’s childish, frankly. I even admit it now,» Lim said. “There is no reason to do it. But when you’re trying to get an Easter Egg Roll ticket for your family, you get desperate.»
The White House’s shift in paying more attention to supporters was obvious, he said, citing invitations to a garden tour, the unveiling of Obama’s White House portrait, trick-or-treating at the White House, as well as holiday parties. .
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 that was directed at some of Biden’s early supporters. Some of those same people were invited to the White House next month for an in-person policy briefing.
Some donors, however, believe the White House was too slow to step up its game.
“Catching up has taken longer than it should have,” said Susie Tompkins Buell, a longtime high-value Democratic donor. She said supporters recognized that the administration was consumed with «excessive workloads and trauma» from the start.
“I think donors understand, but communication absolutely needs more effective attention,” Buell added. He said he’s seeing more examples of the White House acknowledging that he needs to appreciate donors, but that «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 one more campaign or step aside.
Kessler said he spoke with Biden in late October at a Pennsylvania Democratic Party event and thanked him for recently affirming his intention to run again.
“I know you get tired of hearing, ‘Is he really running?’” Kessler recalled telling the president. «But when you come out with strong statements like that, it’s very helpful for people like me who get asked all the time.»
And how did Biden respond?
“He liked it,” Kessler said.