President Biden has been holding private lunches at the White House with top donors and other supporters as part of an effort to reassure them about his reelection campaign, including concerns about his age and energy, according to three people familiar with the meetings.
Biden has held roughly a half-dozen meetings, in groups ranging from four to eight people, since he launched his campaign in April, but many of them occurred just before the holidays, the people said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
People familiar with the meetings say there is no set agenda, and the conversations have covered a range of topics, including how to take on former president Donald Trump, the Israel-Gaza conflict and abortion rights. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the movie mogul who is a national co-chair of Biden’s campaign and a longtime Democratic fundraiser, has been organizing the meetings.
The need for Biden to convene such meetings comes amid widespread doubts in his own party about the stamina and commitment of the 81-year-old president, as reflected in many recent polls.
The White House and the Biden campaign declined to comment.
In addition to allaying concerns of anxious Democrats, the meetings have also turned into feedback sessions for Biden.
“Joe Biden loves people,” one of the people familiar with the meetings said. “He leaves these meetings energized and excited and looks forward to the next one.”
Another person familiar with the meetings said the recent gatherings are an improvement on sessions held in 2019 with major business figures and donors. Those events were more scripted around Biden’s plans for the presidency and were often a variation on his stump speech.
“It has dispelled anybody who has any doubts about his determination and his energy and his passion,” the person said.
The meetings this time are far more free-flowing, with the president effectively opening the floor so attendees can ask whatever is on their mind. The effect has been positive, the person said, both as a way of showing donors Biden’s command of issues and as a way of giving the president feedback.
“It just gives him some seasoning. That is good. It gives him energy, which is very good,” the person said. “And these people who are wondering if he has lost a step, they leave and are like, ‘That was great.’ ”
Just before year’s end, Biden’s ratings tied his record low, with 38 percent approving of his performance and 58 percent disapproving, according to a Washington Post average of 17 polls in November and December. Voters, including a majority of Democrats, say they are particularly concerned about Biden’s age and consistently rank it as a bigger problem for the president, 81, than for Trump, 77.
The small-group meetings have all taken place at the White House in locations that are not official workspaces where political activity is permissible, the people said, including the Map Room, the private dining room in the residence and the tennis pavilion.
The meetings occur at the White House instead of a restaurant or hotel in Washington because of the complicated logistics of moving the president and his security detail outside the White House, the people said.
Incumbent presidents have long used the White House to gather donors and supporters ahead of a reelection campaign, dating back to Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and including Barack Obama and Donald Trump.