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DIGGING A HOLE

On a private Zoom call, Biden’s top Jewish supporters question his ability to win

A Biden campaign spokesperson called the president ‘a busy, in control, crushing it man’ to a skeptical audience of Jewish backers

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

An embattled President Joe Biden speaks alongside British Prime Minister Keir Starmer to reporters before participating in a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on July 10, 2024

The Biden campaign dispatched a staffer on Wednesday to reassure the members of Jewish Women for Joe, a grassroots group that for years has contained some of the president’s fiercest backers, and several other politically involved Jewish Democrats — who are now, like many other Democrats, privately stressed about President Joe Biden’s ability to beat former President Donald Trump. 

It didn’t go well. 

Two weeks ago, on the night of the first presidential debate, Jewish Women for Joe posted a picture to its Instagram account that conveyed confidence in Biden. The post compared Biden to Trump. Biden: “Morals that will defend democracy.” Trump: “Morals of an alley cat.” Privately, though, some of the women in the group were deeply concerned by the president’s performance in the debate.

“This group, as dedicated as we are, vary from a little worried to positively unable to sleep over what we think [of] as Biden’s loss of ability to govern and to win,” Betsy Sheerr, a longtime Democratic donor, said at the Wednesday virtual meeting. “This is a campaign that should be about Trump. It’s not. It’s about Biden. Please help us overcome our anxiety and get us focused on where we need to go.” Sheerr declined to comment. (An audio recording of the meeting was leaked to Jewish Insider.) 

The Biden campaign has not hired a dedicated staffer to engage with the Jewish community. Instead, the campaign sent Laura Brounstein, its spokesperson for women’s and consumer media, to try to alleviate the concerns of the several dozen people on the call. Her responses to the fear and concern expressed by the call’s participants offer a window into the chaotic messaging the Biden campaign is deploying in private to try to win back anxious supporters — an approach rooted less in evidence than a throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks mentality. 

She elaborated on many of the arguments Biden’s backers have been using on TV, but they didn’t seem to sway many of the high-level donors and activists on the call. 

First, though, Brounstein affirmed their concerns — and admitted she had some of her own, too.

“I was working remotely last week, and I have to say, I started giving in to some of my anxieties that you all are probably facing, having people text you saying, What’s happening? Is he staying in? And feeling nervous,” Brounstein explained. “I had a moment of nervousness too, I will admit, but being in HQ this week, hearing that NATO speech last night, seeing the power of intellect and vigor that the president has brought to everything throughout his presidency and really intensely for the last week has just given me back my excitement and just passion for what we’re doing.”

Steve Sheffey, a pro-Israel Democratic activist in Chicago, asked for advice on responding to others who express concerns about Biden. “He does seem to be showing signs of decline, whether it’s true or not,” said Sheffey, who declined comment to JI. “That’s a perception that one could understand given his performance at the debate and on [George] Stephanopoulos. So how do we answer that?”

Brounstein tried several different approaches to attempt to convince the activists that everything is fine. While she spoke, several of them made clear in the Zoom chat that she wasn’t succeeding. 

No one should question Biden’s cognition because Trump is a “sociopath who is not fit to take the office of the president,” Brounstein said. 

Yes, the debate was bad — “obviously the debate sucked,” Brounstein acknowledged — but “he came back so quickly, and he showed himself to be the thoughtful, powerful, again, vigorous leader he has been throughout his presidency.” 

Biden is really busy, she argued: “I’m just here to say he’s really impressive. He’s really in it. When I see his schedule, I’ll see, like, he’s doing this briefing, this briefing, this briefing, then going to this event. We’re in the public only seeing the events. I’m seeing everything in between. This is a busy, in control, crushing it man.” 

Biden has back problems that cause the “stiff gait” people have observed, she added. 

“Aging is progressive,” Brounstein conceded, but he has good people around him to help run things: “The brain trust of the Biden presidency is who we want running the country.” She named Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff as “people that we want involved in our future.” 

Ultimately, she said the conversations simply need to end: “I think when people say, ‘I don’t know, I’m worried about the president,’ I think you have to say, ‘Yeah, you should be worried if President Trump and his crazy gets back in the White House.’ Joe Biden had a bad night, but let’s stop talking about it.”

Meanwhile, the Zoom chat was filling up with attendees writing to say Brounstein wasn’t saying the right things to convince them. “OK, I’m not convincing many of you, I see,” said Brounstein. “Those of you that I’m not convincing and you need a different messenger, I can’t change during this, but I will say, Biden is crushing it. He has been an incredible president, everything we have laid out in this campaign, it is coming from the Oval Office.”

Biden and the campaign “have been in constant communication with his supporters and the critically important groups that make up his winning coalition,” Seth Schuster, a national spokesperson for the Biden campaign, said in a statement. “Since the debate, the President has done 20-plus events, four interviews, traveled to swing states, rallied and met with supporters, and spoken with hundreds of elected officials — members of Congress, governors and mayors — to make clear he is staying in the race. The campaign is continuing full steam ahead to make sure Joe Biden beats Donald Trump in November.”

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a Democratic activist in Maryland and a Biden delegate, suggested that Brounstein ask the campaign to push Biden to do more personal events and to take a cognitive test.

“Everyone on this call agrees with President Biden on all the issues, and I think everyone on this call really appreciates the amazing record that he has,” said Mizrahi, who also pointed out “the concerns that we seem to also have about him being the best person to advance those same issues in the next four years.” 

“I think that if he could accomplish a solid press conference and solid live interviews and take a cognitive test, I think you would find that people would unite. And if he cannot do it, I personally, speaking only for myself, would love to see him call for an open convention, I think, or for Kamala, but I’m very concerned,” said Mizrahi, who declined to comment when reached by JI. 

In an email to JI, Karen Adler, a prominent Jewish community activist who has known Biden for decades, noted that “there were also many participants in the call who appreciated the speaker and her responses and let us know how strongly they support the president and his reelection.”

She and Susie Stern, the incoming chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, introduced the call. 

“This is a group of people who want answers, who work very hard, who are passionate about this campaign and passionate about democracy. And they appreciate people answering their questions. They ask difficult questions because they care very very much,” Stern told JI on Wednesday. “I would say that all of them are gonna go work their hearts out for Joe Biden. And that’s the bottom line.”

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