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Some of Biden's campaign donors are withholding funds, calling for his replacement

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

President Biden has continued to reassure voters and donors that he is the best man for the top of the Democratic ticket, but that has not stopped some of the campaign's biggest donors from calling for his replacement and even withholding funds. Biden's response to his wealthy detractors...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don't care what the millionaires say.

DETROW: That's from an interview Biden did on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Monday. And Biden may say he doesn't care, but all campaigns need money. And according to the numbers released by the Trump and Biden campaigns, Trump outraised Biden by nearly $70 million in the second quarter, basically erasing a financial advantage that Biden had earlier in the year.

So just how significant is it that these Biden donors are withholding funds? Here to tackle that question is CNBC correspondent Megan Cassella. Thanks for coming on, Megan.

MEGAN CASSELLA: Happy to be here.

DETROW: The people we've been hearing from - is this a minority of donors, or is this a broad thinking among the people who fund democratic campaigns at this point?

CASSELLA: It's definitely still a minority that has come out publicly. These are people who certainly matter. They donate a large amount of money and they have influence over other donors as well. Many of them fundraised at the same time. And a lot of the same thinking (ph) - they're sort of mirroring what's going on behind closed doors.

But I would say it remains a minority of the party and of the donor class that's coming out publicly. A lot of people are nervous, concerned, scared, but they don't know the best path forward, and they're not rocking the boat just yet.

DETROW: And I'll mention here that as we're taping this conversation, George Clooney just came out saying that he thinks that Joe Biden should step aside as the nominee, and that matters. I mean, you can say whether or not it matters or not. This is a Hollywood actor. But George Clooney is somebody who just headlined a massive fundraiser that Biden just did just a few weeks ago in California, and Clooney says this.

It's devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fundraiser was not the Joe big effing deal Biden of 2010. He wasn't even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.

So I guess my question to you is, what do these donors think happens next here? - because they are knifing in public the person that they wanted to see stay in the Oval Office and, at least in the short term, seem to be making it easier for Donald Trump to win the election.

CASSELLA: So these donors - many of them really want to see Biden step aside, step aside gracefully. I've talked to people who are looking at the RNC convention next week, saying maybe that's a good time for Democrats to counterprogram and start to look to the future and say, look at our bench of candidates, and kind of retake the news cycle in a more positive way.

There's division over whether folks want to see Kamala Harris become the next nominee as the VP stepping up or whether they want to see some sort of mini-primary, blitz primary - there's ideas there. But they want to see Biden step aside and as soon as possible. But there is that question, like you alluded to - how long do they push on this question before it becomes way more damaging to keep attacking each other in public rather than focusing on Donald Trump?

DETROW: What's the best way to describe the fundraising trends that we have seen this year? - because like I mentioned before, Joe Biden started with this big cash advantage, and it's all but disappeared.

CASSELLA: All but disappeared - it's sort of that Donald Trump has leapfrogged Joe Biden. And at least before this debate and this latest hiccup, it was very clear both campaigns would have enough money to run a full-scale presidential campaign. But the money matters for a couple of reasons. It's a gauge of enthusiasm - right? - who's getting more grassroots support, who has the wealthier donor support.

And the other reason is just that the Biden campaign had really, really prided themselves on their money advantage, on their cash advantage. They were able to set up offices all across battleground states. They say, this is how they're going to win - is to keep their heads down and to focus on, you know, marginal voters, swing state voters and that sort of thing. If they don't keep that advantage, it's a blow to morale. It's a blow to enthusiasm, and it could impact the ground game that matters the most, as well.

DETROW: A lot of the worlds that we're talking about here - politics, entertainment, finance - these are all transactional worlds, right? Do you have a sense that the people who are saying, I don't want Biden to be nominee - if he sticks in the race, they keep giving money? Or are they fully out? - that's it, no more millions.

CASSELLA: I've started asking people the same question. Some folks have been clear that, you know, no more money for any Democrats, that they think that's the best way they can try to wage influence. But when you look at the stakes of this election - if you're a Biden supporter, and you're mad that he's staying in, are you going to turn and start donating to the Republican Party? Are you going to vote for Donald Trump? I think it would be very unlikely that most of these folks do that.

These are lifelong Democrats who want to support the Democratic ticket. They do want the strongest Democratic ticket, and right now, they don't think that's Joe Biden. But it's unlikely that they start donating against their main party. Maybe some of them hold back their money. Maybe others focus down ballot and say, we'll at least Congress, Senate races, as well.

DETROW: And we do know that today, Joe Biden lost the support of Bruce Wayne, George Clooney.

CASSELLA: (Laughter) And that's the one. You know, but I will say what matters most, I think, when we see these big names is the influence that they have...

DETROW: Yeah.

CASSELLA: ...And almost the way that they can validate other people's concerns and give cover to other folks who are feeling the same way. That's...

DETROW: Right.

CASSELLA: ...What matters more than any one name.

DETROW: Right, 'cause I was kind of making a joke there, but it does matter that somebody who headlined this massive fundraiser that not only brought in a lot of money, but got Joe Biden a lot of positive press attention, a few weeks later is saying, actually, I've changed my mind.

CASSELLA: Absolutely. It was $28 million that that event brought in. And so maybe that means George Clooney isn't going to help with the next event, and they have that much harder of a time raising millions when he really needs it in September, October. And maybe other folks in Hollywood say, I really respect George. I recognize that he saw him three weeks ago. I haven't seen the president recently, so I believe him when he says that, you know, he is really not doing well when you see him in private. So it's all those sorts of things that slowly, bit by bit - the drip, drip, drip that we've had so far can start to build.

DETROW: That's CNBC correspondent Megan Cassella. Megan, thank you so much.

CASSELLA: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tyler Bartlam
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.