Biden surges in the 2024 race ... for celebrity support

<span>Joe Biden takes part in a conversation Barack Obama and late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel during a fundraiser in Los Angeles on 15 June 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters</span>
Joe Biden takes part in a conversation Barack Obama and late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel during a fundraiser in Los Angeles on 15 June 2024.Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Hello!

We’re sending the newsletter out slightly early this week, as Wednesday is Juneteenth. The holiday commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free – more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black Americans since the late 1800s and was made a federal holiday in 2021.

While the day will be marked by parades and events across the US, the Biden and Trump campaigns are continuing their sprint to November.

In the past week Joe Biden raised more than $30m at a star-studded fundraising event in Los Angeles. Jack Black, George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Barbra Streisand were among the big name acts, and Biden is certainly leading the race for celebrity endorsements: Donald Trump can only offer the musician Kid Rock, the British actor turned strange man Laurence Fox, and the guy who played Superman on TV in the 1990s.

But does it matter? Should we care whether or not Taylor Swift endorses Biden? (His campaign has been courting her for months.) We’ll take a look after the headlines.

Here’s what you need to know

1. A silent debate?

The debate between Biden and Trump later this month will feature muted microphones, CNN announced on Sunday: meaning neither man will be able to talk over the other during the 90-minute event. The first Biden-Trump debate in 2020 was one of the great farces of our time, with Trump continually interrupting and heckling Biden, before telling a white supremacist group to “stand by”.

2. Trump can’t remember his doctor’s name

Trump was in Michigan on Saturday, bragging about his mental acuity and demanding Biden take a cognitive test. Trump said he had “aced” a cognitive test administered by his presidential doctor, whom he identified as “Ronny Johnson”. “[Ronny Johnson] was the White House doctor, and he said I was the healthiest president, he feels, in history. So I liked him very much,” Trump said. The only problem was that Trump was thinking of Ronny Jackson. The Biden campaign was quick to point out the error.

3. Biden acts on immigration

Biden is set to announce a new executive action that will allow some undocumented immigrants who are spouses and children of US citizens to become American citizens themselves. The action will help about 500,000 American families, according to the Department of Homeland Security, and 50,000 children. Politically it could help insulate Biden somewhat from accusations from the left that he has given in to hard-right Republican demands on border immigration, while potentially shoring up his support with minority communities, which has slipped slightly since the last election.

George Clooney and Julia Roberts v Phil Robertson and Randy Quaid

In the celebrity endorsement race – if such a race exists – Biden is defeating Trump comfortably.

Saturday night was the perfect illustration. Biden flew west, to Los Angeles, for a campaign fundraiser with a who’s who of Hollywood names, including Clooney, Roberts, Black, Streisand, Jason Bateman, the late-night host Jimmy Kimmel – who compered proceedings – and Barack Obama, appearing alongside his former vice-president. The celebs coughed up $30m, a significant boost to the Biden campaign coffers.

In May, Robert De Niro popped up to criticize Trump outside court in Manhattan, while Queen Latifah and Lizzo were featured at a fundraiser in New York in March. Michael Douglas hosted Biden for a campaign event at his home earlier this year.

Trump, the former TV host and celebrity builder who has a long-running obsession with the rich and famous (he sent invitations for his third wedding to various stars including Billy Joel, who attended but later said he wasn’t sure why he was invited), has a less deep bench.

Dean Cain, a former actor who played Superman in the 1990s TV series Lois and Clark, backed Trump in April – “I’m endorsing President Trump 100%. No question about it,” Cain told Fox News – but hardly anyone noticed because, well, very few people know who Dean Cain is.

Kid Rock, the country singer and cowboy-hat wearer, has been a long-term Trump backer (“Many close to him wonder what the hell happened,” Rolling Stone reported last month.) There’s also Randy Quaid, best known for playing a booze-addled, alien-obsessed, ex-pilot in Independence Day, and Dennis Quaid, Randy’s brother. There’s the actor Jon Voight, who these days is perhaps most known for being Angelina Jolie’s dad. Phil Robertson, who invented a sort of pipe thing that replicates the quack of a duck and was a reality TV star before voicing his homophobia, is also keen.

But that’s about it. If this was a celebrity-gathering competition, Biden would definitely win.

But it isn’t. It’s an election. So does it matter?

Kind of. Sometimes. Although not always.

Hillary Clinton had the backing of all the hip-ish A-listers in 2016 – I remember listening to Demi Lovato belting out her hits at a Clinton event in Iowa one evening – and still lost. But studies have found that Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama in 2008 did make an impact: it boosted Obama’s vote and increased contributions.

There is a difference between then and now, however. In May 2007 the future president was a relative unknown: Winfrey was introducing him to some people for the first time. Few Americans alive haven’t heard of Biden and Trump, so the effect of an endorsement from, say, a duck-noise inventor is debatable.

What some politicos believe really could make a difference is the backing of Taylor Swift. In 2023, one fairly innocuous Instagram post from Swift – “I’ve heard you raise your voices, and I know how powerful they are. Make sure you’re ready to use them in our elections this year!” – inspired tens of thousands of people to register to vote.

It’s safe to assume plenty of those new voters were young people – exactly the kind of voter Biden needs in November. No wonder that the Biden campaign is eagerly pursuing Swift, who backed Biden in 2020: the New York Times reports that Swift is “the biggest and most influential endorsement target” for the president.

Swift is clearly on Trump’s mind, too. He brought her up at a meeting with Republican lawmakers in DC last week, spoke about Swift at length – “She probably doesn’t like Trump” – in an interview for a new book.

Of course, Swift hasn’t actually endorsed anyone yet. In 2020 she announced her support for Biden just one month before the election, so we could be waiting a while yet.

Out and about: Detroit

If Trump had been hoping that the 80-minute headline speech at the Turning Point USA convention would improve his standing with Black voters, he would have been disappointed. The crowd before him on Saturday night in Detroit – which is 77% African American, and overwhelmingly Democratic – was almost exclusively white.

The former president has been attempting in recent campaign appearances to present himself as popular with Black and Latino voters, as polls show his support among these demographic groups edging upwards. Michigan is also one of a handful of critical battleground states that are likely to determine the outcome of this year’s presidential race.

Earlier on Saturday Trump visited a Black church in Detroit for an event billed as a “community roundtable” – but there was little audience crossover into the Turning Point event. Those attending were able to hear speeches from a range of Trump luminaries, including his former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon. Supporters could also pose for selfies in front of a gold-plated Mercedes bearing Trump’s image on the hood.

– Ed Pilkington, chief US reporter, Detroit, Michigan

Biggest lie: the vice-presidential hopefuls

Tim Scott, the South Carolina senator, and Byron Donalds, a Florida congressman, who are both auditioning to be Trump’s vice-president, each made similar claims during TV appearances this weekend – namely, that Biden is responsible for rampant violent crime.

Scott said communities have been “ravaged by a wave of violent crime that we haven’t seen in five decades”, while Donalds claimed that while the murder rate might be down, it doesn’t mean violent crime overall is.

Both are actually down. Recently released data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed big declines in violent crimes, including murder, and in property crimes in 2024 compared to 2023. Nor is it just a one-year drop. Violent crime is now at a nearly 50-year record low, Biden has said - and FBI crime data backs this up: it peaked in 1991, then has largely fallen, with occasional upward ticks such as 2020, which is often attributed to pandemic stresses.

Unfortunately, while crime may be down, the public’s perception of crime is different. A Gallup poll in October found that 77% of Americans believe there is more crime in the US than a year ago, and Republicans seem to be happy to stoke those fears.

– Rachel Leingang, misinformation reporter

Who had the worst week: Republicans who like to smoke cigars

Pity Tom Cole, the Republican congressman from Oklahoma, and his cigar-smoking pals, who have been left without a place to suck on their stogies after Cole left his position as chairman of the House rules committee.

Cole spent 15 months as the Rules head honcho, and he allowed colleagues to puff on cigars in the rules office in the Capitol building. But it seems the new chair clamped down.

“We desperately need a place to smoke cigars,” Cole told Business Insider this week.

Smoking is banned in many public places in the US – including in Washington DC – but members of Congress can smoke all they like in their offices … which does little to counter the notion that politics is an elite little club, with its own little rules.

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