Pro-Palestinian protesters interrupted Biden's glitzy New York fundraiser

NEW YORK — Pro-Palestinian protesters repeatedly interrupted President Joe Biden’s fundraiser featuring former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton Thursday night — underscoring a serious electoral challenge for the incumbent Democrat even as he raked in $26 million.

The frequent protests — including shouts of “blood on your hands” — drew flashes of frustration from the former presidents on stage as Biden faces intensifying domestic fallout from the Israel-Hamas war.

“You can’t just talk and not listen. That’s what the other side does,” Obama said, according to pooled reporters in the room.

Clinton used the protests to push for Biden’s re-election, arguing that Biden cares about Palestinians’ self-determination and establishing a two-state solution. Obama, too, said Biden had the moral clarity to lead during this conflict.

Biden, for his part, called for stopping “the effort that is resulting in significant deaths of innocent civilians” in Gaza, adding that he’s working with Arab countries, who are “prepared” to “fully recognize Israel for the first time.”

The star-studded spectacle — which featured a performance by Lizzo and was emceed by actress and screenwriter Mindy Kaling — shattered fundraising records for a single event. Late Show host Stephen Colbert interviewed the trio of presidents, all seated in armchairs on stage at Radio City Music Hall Thursday night.

“Three presidents have all come to New York and not one of them is here to appear in court,” Colbert said in a dig at former President Donald Trump’s various legal battles.

Trump was also in New York on Thursday to attend the wake of a New York City police officer killed during a traffic stop on Monday. Trump’s campaign used the split-screen to attack Biden for spending his time raking in cash from wealthy donors and celebrities.

Biden’s fundraiser represents two advantages for his re-election bid — a sizable campaign warchest and establishment party unity. The event, which raised nearly double what Trump brought in during the entire month of January, is all but certain to build on Biden’s cash edge over the former president. And the joint appearance of popular Democratic ex-presidents offered the appearance of a unified party behind Biden.

Trump, by contrast, easily won the nomination in a crowded field, but there are notable holdouts. The only living Republican president, George W. Bush, hasn’t endorsed Trump’s third run, nor has Mike Pence, his former vice president.

Biden’s strong fundraising, rousing State of the Union address and slight uptick in job approval ratings has quieted some Democratic concerns about his age. But the pro-Palestinian protests Thursday night underlined one of Biden’s weaknesses, as he’s faced increasing pressure from his left flank over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

Public polling of young voters shows that Biden faces steep challenges in regaining their support, while he still trails in head-to-head polling averages to Trump.

Ahead of the event, hundreds of protesters marched past the line of Biden supporters waiting to enter Radio City Music Hall, calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and criticizing Biden. As attendees left, protesters lined up on Sixth Avenue chanted “genocide supporter” and “cease-fire now.”

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), who attended the fundraiser, called the protests “minor,” adding that he “didn’t think that marred [the event] at all. It’s part of what our democracy is about.”

All three presidents emphasized the threat they see in Trump returning to the White House. Citing Trump’s comments that he’d be dictator “for one day” if he was reelected, “he’s not joking,” Biden said. “He’s serious about this and it really shakes the entire foundation of the world in terms of what’s going on.”

Obama urged Democrats to also make the positive case for Biden’s reelection, noting his efforts to cap the price of insulin built on the Affordable Care Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Act, legislation signed by Obama and Clinton respectively. He urged the protesters to view the election, as Biden has many times, as a choice.

“Look, passions get stirred by what we’re against and Joe is absolutely right that we’ve got not just a nominee, but frankly a party, and an entire infrastructure, that increasingly seems unconcerned with the essence of America,” Obama said. “But we also have a positive story to tell about the future, and that is something that Joe Biden has worked on, diligently each and every day.”

Colbert also asked Biden to respond to those who think “you’re too seasoned for the job.” Biden, who is 81, argued that Trump, who is 77, represents ideas that are “from the 18th, 19th century.”

“If you pay attention, one thing age does bring is a little bit of wisdom, and I know I don’t look much over forty. I know that,” Biden joked. “All kidding aside, I think one of the advantages that I’ve had.”

Tensions aside, the events still drew thousands of Democrats, who waited more than an hour in the cold and rain on Fifth Avenue to get into the event. New York state Assemblymember Alex Bores, who was amongst those in line, came to the event straight from the legislative session in Albany.

“Every election we hear it’s the most important election of our lifetime,” Bores said. “I don’t want to give into that trope, but the stakes on this one feel quite substantial.”

Former Mike Bloomberg press secretary Stu Loeser, who was also spotted in line, said young aides weren’t being handed free tickets to this event like often happened with political fundraisers — every ticket was sold.

Inside, New York State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs texted POLITICO he was in line for a photo with the presidents.

“It’s a who’s who,” he said.

Ticket prices for the event started at $225. But access to private receptions ranged from $250,000 to $500,000. Snapping a picture with the three presidents by famed photographer Annie Leibowtiz cost $100,000.

There were still lighthearted moments on stage. Biden joked about his dog, Commander: “Harry Truman said if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. I got one, and it bit a Secret Service agent.” (Commander, who has since been removed from the White House, has reportedly bit Secret Service personnel 24 times.)

And Colbert teased Obama over his formality, razzing him for having spent “some time with you and your wife [and] she has repeatedly asked me to call her Michelle, which I now do,” he said.

“I say, ‘hello, Michelle.’ I continue to call you, ‘Mr. President’ because you have never invited me to call you anything else,” Colbert continued. “So my question is to Presidents Biden and Clinton, don’t you think at this point, I should be able to call him Barack?”

“No, but your wife can,” Obama said. “I like her. That’s the reason you might not get another invitation.”

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