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White House hosts closed-door meetings of Biden political allies

The discussions focused on Biden's accomplishments in a clear sign that he's readying a re-election campaign.
President Joe Biden speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House  on Sept. 27, 2022.
President Joe Biden speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House on Sept. 27.Samuel Corum / Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The White House held a series of closed-door meetings Thursday, from which Democratic strategists and activists came out with an emphatic message: Go out and sell the president’s record.

In the latest sign that President Joe Biden is preparing to mount a re-election campaign, a battery of senior White House officials delivered presentations on Biden’s tenure and gave briefings on the economy, climate change and the way forward.

Handouts given to the participants at one meeting and reviewed by NBC News included talking points to use when discussing Biden’s time in office and lists of various legislative victories.

“One thing that they did was give a really actionable list of accomplishments and talking points that everyone can go out and really evangelize about what this administration has done over the last two years,” said one person who attended a meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s Indian Treaty Room and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private gathering.

There was no explicit mention of Biden’s re-election plans, though he has said he intends to run again and first lady Jill Biden has signaled to supporters that she wants him to do just that.

One handout described Biden’s effort to “restore the soul of the country” — the main rationale for his 2020 campaign.

“He has called out the rise in extremism, antisemitism and violent rhetoric that has been fanned by the forces that drove him to run,” a bullet point reads. “Under the president’s leadership, voters rejected election deniers in the midterm elections …”

While some prominent candidates who falsely claimed that Donald Trump won the 2020 election went on to lose in the midterms, many prevailed. A Washington Post tracker shows that 179 of those Republican candidates won their midterm races.

And while Biden has condemned extremist movements and white supremacy, hate crimes persist.

The meetings Thursday were a vehicle for the White House to thank and mollify various interest groups who helped Biden push through legislation and whose enthusiastic support will be crucial to raise money, register voters and build momentum behind a re-election bid. Those in attendance included representatives of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club, according to another guest.

In a kind of speed-dating format at the EEOB gathering, the guests heard from Emmy Ruiz, the White House director of political strategy; Susan Rice, the Domestic Policy Council director, deputy White House chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon and Chief of Staff Ron Klain, among others, a copy of the briefing agenda shows. Listed as a “special guest” was Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Emhoff spoke about his efforts to combat antisemitism along with the importance of voting, according to the second person in attendance, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a closed-door meeting.

The constituency outreach comes amid criticism that the White House’s political operation has neglected some of the longtime Biden allies and donors who helped shepherd his rise to the presidency. Top aides are working to quiet such complaints from fundraisers who wistfully recall more attentive care and feeding from Bill Clinton’s White House, in particular.

A separate meeting Thursday was focused on younger voters, according to Wisdom Cole, youth and college director for the NAACP, who participated in a discussion that included Emhoff, senior adviser Keisha Lance Bottoms and other policy staff. “A lot of what came out is how do we communicate what the White House is doing to young people on the state and local level,” Cole said.

They were also introduced to current White House interns who shared their experiences working in the administration.

“Together we have the power to turn out the vote, and we were able to see the impact in the midterms,” Cole added.

The White House has also been bringing in groups of state lawmakers to meet with administration officials and strategize on how to advance their shared agenda across the country.

A White House official said the meetings were a chance for the administration to thank key allies “and talk about how we can keep working together in 2023 to make progress for American families.”

“The White House is holding a series of meetings with advocates, grassroots organizations, unions, and other leaders who have been essential to the historic accomplishments of the last two year,” the official said. “None of [the accomplishments] would have been possible without our diverse partners in standing up for the middle class, for Americans’ freedoms, and for our mainstream values.”