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A look at Biden's intimate donor events


We are following President Joe Biden and his dash for cash. He attended two fundraisers today in Chicago and has another two tomorrow in New York City. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith was at a couple of Biden campaign events in Maryland last night, and she's been digging into what all this fundraising says about the state of the reelection campaign.

Hey, Tam.


SHAPIRO: Seems like a lot of fundraising for, I don't know, 18 months before the election. What's going on here?

KEITH: Well, there is a big campaign finance reporting deadline in a couple of days. So the president, the vice president, the first lady, the second gentleman, they are all out doing these events, speaking to wealthy donors in private settings, typically homes. And all told, they've done more than 20 of them in the last few months. Biden himself has done more than a dozen since launching his reelection campaign.

SHAPIRO: You got a firsthand look at a couple of them. What are they like?

KEITH: Yeah, I was part of the pool of reporters who follows the president wherever he goes. And we followed to Chevy Chase, Md., which is this affluent suburb of Washington, D.C. The first fundraiser was really quite intimate. There were maybe 20 people in what I'm guessing was the living room of Michael and Susie Gelman's home. Susie Gelman's grandfather owned the Levi Strauss company, and she and her husband have been quite active in both Democratic politics and Jewish organizations. So the president, in this living room, grabs a hand-held microphone. He moved around the room. And in the end, he took questions. But we didn't get to see that part.

The second fundraiser was a very short motorcade away, held in a tent in Sandy and Stewart Bainum's backyard, next to the swimming pool. It was dumping rain, and the donors all were quite soggy as they came in. That one was bigger - about 60 people around large weddings like you'd see at a - large tables like you'd see at a wedding. And Stewart Bainum is the chairman of Choice Hotels, also a very wealthy donor. He said this was the third time that Biden has been to his home, which I think is what happens when you're a big donor. Biden said he would keep his remarks brief, and then he talked for 45 minutes in a very free-flowing manner.

SHAPIRO: And what did he talk about for those 45 minutes?

KEITH: Well, a lot of the same sorts of things that we would see from him on camera. But it was sort of a different vibe. I'd say that the Biden that I've seen at fundraisers is more like the Biden I saw and you saw when he was vice president and we were covering him then. He's less guarded, more loose. Last night there was a helicopter that buzzed right over the tent, and he joked, oh, that's Trump; he always flies over.

There's not a script. I would say, at times, he pulls back the curtain more. He often talks about his decision to run in 2019 and tells this very personal story about conversations he had with his grandchildren about how brutal the campaign would be. And that's not a story that he's told on camera. He talked yesterday about his views on Roe v. Wade and said that as a practicing Catholic, quote, "I'm not big on abortion." And then he went into more detail about his views on abortion than he usually does in public. And also, he's a lot more loose when talking about foreign policy.

SHAPIRO: And that's gotten him into trouble at some fundraisers, right?

KEITH: Indeed. At a fundraiser last week in California, he referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a dictator, which is out of sync with the official government line and was not well received by China. And that was just as U.S. diplomats were making progress in repairing relations. At a fundraiser in New York last October, he talked about his concerns about nuclear Armageddon as relates to Vladimir Putin's Russia. So he's a bit more blunt at times, but he's also pretty consistent. He always says that he's never been more optimistic about America than he is today, whether he's talking to donors or on camera.

SHAPIRO: Any idea how much money he's raising?

KEITH: We don't know yet. But these fundraisers have mostly been for the Biden Victory Fund, which means that that money is shared between the campaign, the Democratic National Committee and state parties. In theory, each donor could give up to nearly a million dollars this campaign cycle. We don't know if they're maxing out. And we won't know how much they raised until July 15, when a report comes out.

SHAPIRO: NPR White House correspondent, Tamara Keith. Thanks for coming into the studio.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF NU SHOOZ SONG, "I CAN'T WAIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.