Feb 23, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden's cheat sheets at fundraisers worry donors

Photo illustration of Biden behind a wall of layered lined notecards.

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Samuel Corum/Sipa via Getty Images

President Biden has been using notecards in closed-door fundraisers, calling on prescreened donors and then consulting his notes to provide detailed answers, according to people familiar with the routine.

Why it matters: Biden's reliance on notecards to help explain his own policy positions — on questions he knows are coming — is raising concerns among some donors about Biden's age.

  • The president is 81 but claims he feels younger.
  • The staged Q&A sessions have left some donors wondering whether Biden can withstand the rigors of a presidential campaign, let alone potential debates with former President Trump, 77.

Biden advisers say the president is given notecards only for very detailed and technical questions, and say he frequently does spontaneous Q&As.

  • Most recent presidents — including Trump, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — have carried crib notes, or used teleprompters, to help guide them through various public events and meetings.
  • In Biden's case, donors have noticed he's also using notecards in private events.

Biden's campaign dismissed such concerns.

  • "In news that matters to the American people when it comes to the 2024 election today: Three IVF clinics in Alabama ceased operations out of fear of criminal prosecution by the state — all at the feet of Donald Trump," Biden campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz said, referring to an Alabama court's ruling that frozen embryos are children, the latest decision to follow the Supreme Court's rejection of abortion rights.

What we're hearing: Biden's notecards are partly the result of a detail-oriented staff that wants to ensure his fundraisers are successful.

  • They have been: Biden's robust fundraising schedule has given his campaign and the Democratic National Committee a colossal cash advantage over Republicans with the election less than nine months away.
  • As a senator for 36 years, then vice president for eight years, Biden expects to be prepped by staff for nearly every meeting on his schedule. In those briefings, Biden is demanding, difficult to please — and frequently profane.

What they're saying: In some impromptu Q&A sessions, certain donors have been impressed.

  • "He's always been an extemporaneous speaker, and he spoke off-the-cuff. Not scripted at all," said Fred P. Hochberg, a donor who attended a fundraiser in Manhattan earlier this month.
  • "I asked him about immigration and the border, and he talked about what's going on," Hochberg said.

Between the lines: Biden has some of his most notable unscripted moments at late-night events with donors.

  • On Wednesday, during a three-day West Coast swing, he called Russian president Vladimir Putin "a crazy SOB."
  • In June, he referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a "dictator" at a California fundraiser.

Zoom in: Most of Biden's conversations with donors are shielded from public view.

  • The president begins his remarks with reporters — but not TV cameras — in the room. There's frequently a teleprompter to help him stay on track. Wednesday night, there wasn't.
  • After his opening comments at fundraisers, reporters are ushered out of the venue — often a supporter's elegant home — before donors are allowed to ask two or three questions vetted by the president's staff.

Zoom out: Both Biden and Trump — but especially Biden — are facing questions about their age in a campaign that's likely to feature the oldest presidential finalists in U.S. history.

  • Special Counsel Robert Hur's report this month depicting Biden as a "well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory" has given Republicans a talking point — even as Trump has appeared to forget names in speeches, and has been hit with a $364 million court judgment for business fraud.

Biden supporters have drawn attention to Trump's gaffes and relatively light campaign schedule.

Biden has tried to use humor to defuse concerns about his age, winking at voters that he's in on the joke.

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