Biden, Obama raise more than $30 million at glitzy L.A. event

President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event with former President Barack Obama moderated by Jimmy Kimmel at the Peacock Theater, Saturday, June 15, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Biden speaks with former President Obama during Saturday night's fundraiser. Their conversation was moderated by Jimmy Kimmel. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

President Biden and former President Obama railed against former President Trump, touted the Democratic incumbent's policy achievements and slipped in a few jokes at a Saturday night fundraiser in downtown Los Angeles that shattered Democratic fundraising records.

"I could have done nothing and done better than him,” Biden replied when late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who was moderating the discussion between the two Democrats, asked about the presumptive GOP nominee, whom Kimmel referred to as “Orange Julius Caesar,” before noting the strength of the nation’s economy, the low unemployment rate and other accomplishments. “We’re trying to give ordinary people a chance, just a chance.”

Obama added that Biden had built upon their policies when he was president and Biden was vice president, such as expanding access to the Affordable Care Act and increasing funding for efforts to stop climate change.

“At its best, the presidency is a relay race. You take the baton and you run the race” and then hand it your successor, Obama said. “I take great pride in what the Biden administration has accomplished. And it’s a reminder that we don’t have to just vote against something in this election. … But we can take pride in affirming the extraordinary work that Joe has done.”

The star-studded fundraiser at the Peacock Theater in downtown L.A. raised more than $30 million — the largest cash haul from a one-night event in Democratic history. Biden, Obama and First Lady Jill Biden repeatedly attacked Trump, a notable escalation of their rhetoric typically heard on the campaign trail and at fundraisers.

Obama, George Clooney and Julia Roberts were the headliners. Thousands of Biden supporters paid between $250, for a seat far from the stage, and $500,000 — for a ticket package that includes prime seats, photos with both presidents and a VIP after-party — to attend what is likely to be one of the president's last major L.A. fundraisers before the November election.

“This Saturday, we are going to see an unprecedented and record-setting turnout from the media and entertainment world,” said media mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, a Democratic megadonor and the only nonelected official who is a co-chair of the president’s reelection campaign, before the event took place. “The enthusiasm and commitment for Biden-Harris couldn’t be stronger. We all understand this is the most important election of our lifetime.”

Read more: 'Not a happy election': Why this star-studded Hollywood fundraiser is so crucial for Biden

Trump spent Saturday campaigning in Detroit, where he accused Biden of weakening the economy and stoking inflation, the Associated Press reported. Biden was fundraising "with out-of-touch elitist Hollywood celebrities,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt.

While much of Saturday evening’s comedic moments were provided by Kimmel and celebrities such as Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Jack Black and Barbra Streisand, the president and the former president also got in a few jokes.

“Remember the pandemic, [Trump] said, ‘Don’t worry, just inject a little bleach,’ ” Biden said. “It worked for him, the color of his hair.”

Biden then turned serious, noting that more than 1 million Americans have died from COVID-19.

“It has a profound negative impact on the economy. It had a profound negative impact on the attitudes of Americans,” Biden said. “One of the things I’m very proud that we did is we brought an end to pandemic.”

President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event.
President Joe Biden speaks during Saturday night's fundraiser. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

Kimmel recalled the toilet paper shortage in the initial weeks of the pandemic.

“He promised he would make America great again, and the next thing you know, we are wiping ourselves with envelopes,” Kimmel said, prompting Obama to laughingly interject, “Is that how you handled it, Jimmy?”

Kimmel mentioned his young son Billy, who needed three open-heart surgeries because of a congenital birth defect, asking why Republicans would want to overturn the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Biden said efforts to chip away at the healthcare policy enacted while Obama was president would significantly harm Americans, notably the millions who have preexisting conditions.

“Look, this guy started it. I expanded it,” he said. “Here’s the deal, the fact is these guys don’t seem to care. It’s saving the country money.”

He turned to Obama and noted, “It has your name on it.”

“I never minded that, I have to say. I am happy to call it Obamacare. Please do. I don't really understand how that was an insult,” Obama said before adding that politics shouldn’t be about phony performative displays. “At its best, politics is how we come together to solve problems.”

Kimmel noted that after one of his son’s surgeries, Biden sent a card and a stuffed animal that looked like Biden’s German shepherd, Commander, who was moved out of the White House after repeatedly biting Secret Service agents.

“Unfortunately, little Commander bit Billy’s toe off, so he needs more healthcare,” Kimmel said, prompting Obama to say, “Fortunately, he’s covered!”

In a serious moment, Biden noted that the next president is likely to be able to nominate two Supreme Court justices.

“The idea that if he’s reelected he’s going to appoint two more flying flags upside down,” Biden said, referring to the recent controversy over an upside-down flag being flown outside of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s Virginia home.

The president added that the prospect of Trump picking new justices is among the “scariest parts” of the Republican winning in November, and recounted Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ comments about other rights that could be threatened in the aftermath of Roe vs. Wade being overturned.

An audience member shouted "gay rights," and Biden responded, “Not on my watch.”

First Lady Jill Biden told a story about punching a neighborhood bully who had “tormented” her younger sister when she was 13.

She said everyone was here tonight to show Trump “exactly how we deal with bullies. … We don’t cower, we don’t turn away. We show up. We speak up.”

She then presented the contrast of the election between her husband and Trump, as she sees it: “Joe, a man who has dedicated his life to serving his community. Who honors the rule of law instead of trying to bend it to his own will. And rallies the world to fight for democracy and freedom."

Or, the first lady continued, “we can choose someone who wakes up every morning caring about one person and one person only. Himself.”

Other elected officials and celebrities who attended included Gov. Gavin Newsom; Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass; Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), Robert Garcia (D-Long Beach), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-San Pedro), Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk); actors Mindy Kaling, Jeff Ross, and Jordan Peele, and singers Paul Anka (Bateman's father-in-law) and Sheryl Lee Ralph, who sang "God Bless America" shortly before Biden, Obama and Kimmel took the stage for a nearly 40-minute conversation.

Also spotted was Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de León, whom Biden urged to resign in October 2022 after he was heard on a leaked audio with other council members that featured racist and derogatory remarks. De León was seen in the theater's lobby as other elected officials such as Newsom and Bass mingled with Biden and Obama at a VIP gathering before the fundraiser.

Read more: Seeking a Democratic comeback, Kevin de León attends Biden fundraiser

Public entrances to L.A. Live were fenced off throughout the afternoon with well-dressed attendees mixing with T-shirted tourists on the sidewalks. Private security and Los Angeles police officers stationed around the perimeter allowed diners to access the restaurants around the venue.

Pro-Palestinian protestors march outside the Biden fundraiser.
Pro-Palestinian protestors march outside the Biden fundraiser. (Eric Thayer/For The Times)

Biden and Obama were not interrupted by protesters about the Israel-Hamas conflict, as they and Vice President Kamala Harris have been at prior events. Protesters did gather outside the theater.

Around 5 p.m., a few hundred pro-Palestinian protesters outside Arena and the adjacent JW Marriott hotel waved Palestinian flags and chanted, “Biden, Biden can’t you see, Palestine will be free,” and other slogans.

A group blocked an entrance to the fundraiser near the hotel. Confused attendees approached and wondered how they’d get inside. They were able to enter a gate near the arena as protesters screamed, “Shame on you!”

Protesters later blocked the street outside the hotel.

Jennifer Jajeh, a Palestinian and South L.A. resident, stood at the entrance to the fundraiser confronting attendees.

“The people on the ground in Gaza are experiencing terror every moment of their lives,” Jajeh said. “I feel that the people who are supporting a candidate who is supporting a genocide should feel some discomfort. Kathy Griffin, you can be yelled at for two minutes.”

The crowd of protesters began to dissipate by 7 p.m. An LAPD spokesperson said there were no arrests.

A pro-Palestinian protester holds a sign outside the Biden fundraiser.
A pro-Palestinian protester holds a sign outside the Biden fundraiser. (Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

The event took place at a critical time for Biden.

While the Democrat has outpaced Trump in dollars raised in California and nationally, the former president has seen a burst of donations since being convicted in late May of 34 felonies for falsifying business records about $130,000 in payments to adult film actor Stormy Daniels, who alleges they had sex in Lake Tahoe during a golf tournament, in an effort to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Trump's first fundraising swing after the convictions was in California this month.

Read more: Trump raises millions in Newport Beach and Beverly Hills in post-conviction appearances

National and swing-state polls show a tight race. And voters, some of whom are apathetic about Biden and Trump partly because of their age, are anxious about domestic economic concerns as well as global tumult — the extended wars between Russia and Ukraine and between Israel and Hamas. Neither international conflict was discussed by Biden or Obama at the fundraiser.

Late Friday night, Biden left the Group of 7 summit — a gathering in Italy of leaders of Western nations focused on tackling global issues such as trade, the economy and security — as well as a private meeting with Pope Francis. After a refueling stop at an Air Force base in Maryland, the president landed in Los Angeles around dawn Saturday.

It’s unknown how Biden spent time after he landed; but his son Hunter, who was convicted of three felony gun charges this week, lives in Malibu. In February, Biden spent about 90 minutes with his son and his grandson at the Ivy restaurant on Hunter Biden’s 54th birthday. Hunter Biden was among the family members who attended Saturday's fundraiser.

On the Peacock Theater stage, Kimmel asked what presidents have the power to do, noting that he had been making fun of Trump for years on television.

“Ever hear of Delta Force? It’s not just a TV show,” Biden said, referring to an elite Army Special Forces unit. “The idea he’s threatening retribution. This is the United States of America. Did you ever think you would hear anything like this?”

Obama said this was among the reasons it was so important for Democrats to be active, from persuading young people to vote to having respectful discussions with family members and friends who have different political leanings.

“If those things happen, then Joe Biden will be reelected president of the United States, Kamala Harris will be reelected vice president of the United States and Jimmy Kimmel will be safe to do his show,” Obama said. “And I’ll be able to do what ex-presidents are supposed to do, which is not hang out with Jimmy Kimmel. Let’s get to work.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.