'He Is a Warrior.' State Trooper Shot in the Face Is Recovering Well, Says His Dad
A Washington State trooper shot in the face and hand during a Walla Walla confrontation Sept. 22 continues to improve.
Trooper Dean Atkinson Jr. underwent surgery Wednesday to remove a bullet in his right cheek and repair a wound on the left side of his face, his father posted on Facebook.
The five-year WSP trooper remains hospitalized at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he was flown after the shooting. He'd remained conscious after he was wounded and driven himself less than two miles to Providence St. Mary Medical Center.
Dean Atkinson Sr. has been by his son's side in Seattle and planned to stay until he leaves, he told reporters this week.
His father has been sharing updates about his son's progress, and recently said his son has been healing at an amazing pace. Once released, he should be able to return home and eventually back to work, his dad has said.
"He is off all cords and hoses except for a feeding tube, which might even come out today," Dean Atkinson Sr. posted on Thursday. "He is on a mission and wants to be home."
Support has flooded in for the wounded trooper who also has been visited by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and National Guard Brigadier Gen. Daniel H. Dent. The Atkinsons both served in the National Guard, and for a time they served together.
"I don't know how to thank each of you but by saying THANK YOU," Dean Atkinson Sr. wrote. "I wish this upon no one and hope Dean Jr's experience will inspire folks. He is a warrior and my kid.'
"He lives by the state patrol motto on every car 'Service with Humility' as well as their motto at academy 'I will not quit, I will not die, I will survive,' wrote his dad. "Most importantly this kid lives by his own motto 'always come home' and will be home very soon."
A GoFundMe campaign organized by Jenny Mayberry has raised more than $51,000. People can contribute by going to bit.ly/AtkinsonFundraiser.
Walla Walla shooting
Brandon D. O'Neel, 37, was arrested and is being held in the Walla Walla County Jail on charges of attempted first-degree murder, attempted first-degree assault and attempting to elude police.
Earlier in the day on Sept. 22, officers went to his apartment to serve an eviction notice. According to police records, O'Neel had left a note on his door threatening to shoot any officer or manager who was sent to remove him.
He also left a sign that said, "Bomb," according to court documents, though no explosives were found inside.
Later about 5 p.m., O'Neel reportedly stopped next Atkinson's patrol car on West Poplar Street near the intersection with Avery Street, got out his car and allegedly fired four or five times at the trooper.
Atkinson apparently raised his hand in a defensive manner and was wounded in the hand and face.
Witnesses called 911 and local officers rushed to the scene.
O'Neel then drove off and was spotted on Highway 125 south of Walla Walla. According to police reports, he tried to lose the officers chasing him until he was stopped between Farmland Road and Old Milton Highway.
Walla Walla Officer Nat Small used his marked patrol car to stop O'Neel, causing a crash. O'Neel was not hurt and taken into custody, according to an updated statement from the Special Investigations Unit.
The Tri-Cities-based unit uses specially trained investigators from other law enforcement agencies to investigate violent incidents involving officers.
Cross Country Roundup: Bearcats, Beavers, Pirates, Vikings All Race in Pierce County
Four local schools made the way up to Pierce County on Saturday, with Mossyrock, Adna, Tenino, and W.F. West all joining a crowded field at the 26th John Payne Invitational, hosted by Curtis High School.
With 77 schools all taking part, the varsity portion of the meet was split an extra time, with two separate boys and girls races being run.
Adna junior Jordan Stout, the only local competitor classified into a “Division I” race, took 86th with a time of 18:21.8.
Mossyrock senior Christian Paz Tapia had the best overall time of the local boys, finishing 27th in the “Division II” race in 18:07.3. Miguel Gomez was 67th for the Vikings in 18:49.8, and Hugo Wedam was 74th in 18:53.3.
Jaysen Miles (18:27.4) led W.F. West with a 49th-place finish, while Ezra Birchard (18:39.9) came in 12 seconds behind him to take 58th.
Mercedes Ricks led the Bearcats’ girls with a 71st-place time of 23:49.6 in the Division II race. Mossyrock freshman Joan Wedam was 87th, running the course in 24:25.2
Rochester, Toledo, Oakville run in Longview
Squads from both Washington and Oregon came to Longview on Saturday to race at the Harvest Classic, including a trio of local teams in Rochester, Toledo, and Oakville.
Toledo sophomore Treyton Marty led all local competitors, covering the 5,000-meter course in 16:29.30 to finish fourth overall in the boys race. Rochester’s Taydee Evenstar finished eighth with a time of 18:22.10, while Toledo’s Conner Olmstead ran the course in 19:10.40 to finish 17th.
Rochester sophomore Elisha Salman finished 27th in 20:10.50, the only other local runner in the top 30 out of a field of 75 runners.
Oakville junior Mercedes Dupont, the only Acorn runner in Longview, led all local runners in the girls race, taking 11th overall with a time of 24:03.70. Toledo’s Jasmine Kemmerer was 16th with a time of 25:50.80, with Jasmine Clark two spots behind her at 26:36.20.
MWP Races at Apple Ridge
A pack of Timberwolves went across the mountains over the weekend, as the Morton-White Pass cross country team participated in the Apple Ridge Run Invitational on Saturday.
Sophomore Hunter Bracket led MWP in the boys 3-mile district course race, finishing fifth with a time of 18:08. Senior Eric Brown was 11th at 18:33, while junior Anthony Snyder (20:47) was 39th, Keaton Thompson (21:52) was 54th, and Aiden Kampa (22:22) was 60th.
Ayricka Hughes (23:43) took 13th in the girls race for the T-Wolves.
Blood supply ‘dangerously low’ in Western Washington and Oregon
Blood donations are down close to 50 percent at Bloodworks Northwest, the supplier of all of the donated blood in Clark County and 95 percent of the donated blood in Western Washington and Oregon.
Lauren Reagan, community engagement liaison for the Vancouver branch of Bloodworks Northwest, said the organization is seeking 1,000 donations a day at its 12 locations across Washington and Oregon.
Currently, only 30 percent of the donors needed in October have booked appointments, creating a need for over 14,000 more donations before Oct. 31, according to a press release.
One key strategy that staff at Bloodworks Northwest hope will bolster donations is campus visits. This year, mobile donation vans will make the rounds to high schools and colleges throughout Western Washington and Oregon for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reagan said Bloodworks Northwest hopes to bring on 10,000 new donors this school year.
Prior to the pandemic shutting down schools and mobile blood donations, 16- to 25-year-olds made up about 20 percent of blood donors through Bloodworks Northwest, according to Reagan.
“So, we are holding a lot of hope that these high school students can make a huge impact,” she said.
The goal at Bloodworks Northwest is to remain in the “green zone,” with enough donated blood to have a three-day supply in back stock. That requires 1,000 donations a day.
Despite a need for more donors, Bloodworks Northwest shipped an emergency supply of 30 units of blood to SunCoast Blood Centers in Florida last week, in preparation for the potential need in response to Hurricane Ian.
“While our Type O supplies are tight, this is a need we must respond to,” Curt Bailey, Bloodworks president and CEO, said in a press release. “Florida is facing an extremely dangerous situation, and it’s critical we help them, just as they would help us in our own time of need.”
Type O negative blood is the most-needed blood type in a trauma situation because it is the universal blood type for emergency transfusions, according to Reagan.
In May, Bloodworks Northwest joined 30 blood centers across the country in forming the Blood Emergency Readiness Corps, to help ensure there is a large blood supply following a multiple-injury, mass-transfusion event such as a school shooting, according to a press release.
For Bloodworks Northwest, this means committing to store an extra 15 units of type O negative and type O positive blood on a rotating schedule so it can be available to all Blood Emergency Readiness Corps members in case of an emergency.
As the regional pool of blood donors remains low, not having an excess supply in case of an emergency can be worrisome.
“Our community is running dangerously low on the platelets and Type O blood needed to supply local hospitals, straining our ability to provide transfusions for every cancer and surgery patient who need them,” Bailey said in a press release. “If a mass trauma event were to happen today, we would not have enough blood available to help everyone who needs it. It is vital people donate blood to support everyday needs of patients as well as unforeseen emergencies.”
Eligible people can donate blood every 56 days and are encouraged to continue to donate as often as they are able to, according to Reagan.
While preparing to donate blood, she recommends hydrating in the 24 hours leading up to the donation, eating a high-sodium meal the night before and eating a full meal two hours before the actual blood draw.
The donation process usually takes around an hour, though only about seven to 10 minutes of that is the actual blood draw, according to Reagan.
For more information on how and where to donate, visit BloodworksNW.org or call 800-398-7888.
2 Venezuelans swapped for 7 jailed Americans
WASHINGTON — In a rare softening of hostile relations, Venezuela freed on Saturday seven imprisoned Americans in exchange for the United States releasing two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro’s wife who had been jailed for years on narcotics convictions.
The swap of the Americans, including five oil executives held for nearly five years, follows months of back-channel diplomacy by senior U.S. officials — secretive talks with a major oil producer that took on greater urgency after sanctions on Russia put pressure on global energy prices.
The deal amounts to an unusual gesture of goodwill by Maduro as the socialist leader looks to rebuild relations with the U.S. after vanquishing most of his domestic opponents. While the White House denied that any change in policy toward Venezuela is afoot, the freeing of Americans could create political space for the Biden administration to ease crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela if Maduro shows progress in on-again, off-again talks with his opponents.
“I can’t believe it,” Cristina Vadell, the daughter of Tomeu Vadell, one of the freed Americans, told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Holding back tears of joy on her 31st birthday, she said: “This is the best birthday present ever. I’m just so happy.”
The transfer took place Saturday in the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and Grenadines, which is ruled by an ally of Maduro, three people in Venezuela briefed on the matter told the AP on the condition of anonymity. The prisoners arrived from their respective locations in separate planes, the Biden administration said.
“These individuals will soon be reunited with their families and back in the arms of their loved ones where they belong,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.
Those freed include five employees of Houston-based Citgo — Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira — who were lured to Venezuela right before Thanksgiving in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of the company’s parent, state-run-oil giant PDVSA. Once there, they were hauled away by masked security agents who busted into a Caracas conference room.
The men were convicted of embezzlement last year in a trial marred by delays and irregularities and sentenced to between eight years and 13 years in prison for a never-executed proposal to refinance billions in the oil company’s bonds.
Also released was Matthew Heath, a former U.S. Marine corporal from Tennessee who was arrested in 2020 at a roadblock in Venezuela, and a Florida man, Osman Khan, who was arrested in January.
The State Department had regarded all the men as wrongfully detained.
To facilitate a deal, Biden granted clemency for Franqui Flores and his cousin Efrain Campo, nephews of “First Combatant” Cilia Flores, as Maduro calls his wife. The men were arrested in Haiti in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting in 2015 and convicted the following year in New York in a highly charged case that cast a hard look at U.S. accusations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of Maduro’s administration.
Referring to the men only as Venezuelans “unjustly imprisoned” in the U.S., the Maduro government in a statement said it “welcomes the outcome of these talks and hopes for the preservation of peace and harmony with all the nations of our region and the world.”
At least four other Americans remain detained in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets — Luke Denman and Airan Berry — involved in a slapdash attempt to oust Maduro in 2019.
Trump at center of Oath Keepers leader’s defense
WASHINGTON — The defense team in the Capitol riot trial of the Oath Keepers leader is relying on an unusual strategy with Donald Trump at the center.
Lawyers for Stewart Rhodes, founder of the extremist group, are poised to argue that jurors cannot find him guilty of seditious conspiracy because all the actions he took before the siege on Jan. 6, 2021, were in preparation for orders he anticipated from the then-president — orders that never came.
Rhodes and four associates are accused of plotting for weeks to stop the transfer of presidential power from the Republican incumbent to Democrat Joe Biden, culminating with Oath Keepers in battle gear storming the Capitol alongside hundreds of other Trump supporters.
Opening statements in the trial are to begin Monday.
Rhodes intends to take the stand to argue that he believed Trump was going to invoke the Insurrection Act to call up a militia to support him, his lawyers have said. Trump didn’t do that, but Rhodes’ team says that what prosecutors allege was an illegal conspiracy was “actually lobbying and preparation for the President to utilize” the law.
It’s a novel legal argument in a trial that’s one of the most serious cases coming out of the Capitol attack.
“This is an incredibly complicated defense of theory, and I don’t think that it’s ever played out in this fashion in American jurisprudence,” said one of Rhodes’ lawyers, James Lee Bright.
The Insurrection Act gives a president broad authority to call up the military and decide what shape that force will take. Trump did float that kind of action at other points in his presidency.
To succeed with this line of defense, Bright would have to convince a jury that Rhodes was waiting on the go-ahead from the president, which could be a major hurdle.
Rhodes’ lawyers have argued that Trump could have called up a militia in response to “what he perceived as a conspiracy to deprive a class of persons in several states of their voting rights.” Rhodes published an open letter on the Oath Keepers’ website in December 2020 urging Trump to use the Insurrection Act to “‘stop the steal’ and defeat the coup.”
If Rhodes testifies, he could face intense questioning from prosecutors, who say his own words show the Oath Keepers would act no matter what Trump did.
Bright said Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate, understands the risks of testifying but has insisted since the first day they met that he be able to “speak his piece.”
Rhodes and his associates — Kelly Meggs, Thomas Caldwell, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson — are the first Jan. 6 defendants to be tried for seditious conspiracy, a rarely used, Civil War-era charge that can be difficult to prove.
The defense would have to convince the jury that the Oath Keepers really intended to defend the government, not use force against it, said David Alan Sklansky, a former federal prosecutor who’s now a professor at Stanford Law School.
“If you think you are plotting to help protect the government, there is an argument that that means you don’t have the required guilty mindset that’s necessary in order to be guilty of seditious conspiracy,” he said.
Court records show the Oath Keepers repeatedly warning of the prospect of violence if Biden were to become president. The group amassed weapons and stationed armed “quick reaction force” teams at a Virginia hotel in case they were needed, prosecutors say.
Russia blindfolds, detains Ukraine nuclear plant chief
KYIV, Ukraine — Russian forces blindfolded and detained the head of Europe’s largest nuclear plant, Ukraine’s nuclear power provider said Saturday, reigniting long-simmering fears over the plant’s security.
The alleged kidnapping on Friday apparently took place shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated his war in Ukraine and pushed it into a new, dangerous phase by annexing four Ukrainian regions that Moscow fully or partially controls and heightening threats of nuclear force.
In a possible attempt to secure Moscow’s hold on the newly annexed territory, Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4 p.m. Friday, the Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said.
Putin on Friday signed treaties to absorb the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine, including the area around the nuclear plant.
Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and then took him to an undisclosed location.
“His detention by (Russia) jeopardizes the safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” said Energoatom President Petro Kotin, demanding the director’s immediate release.
Russia did not immediately acknowledge seizing the plant director.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Saturday that Russia told it that “the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was temporarily detained to answer questions.”
The Vienna-based IAEA said, “in line with its nuclear safety mandate,” it “has been actively seeking clarifications and hopes for a prompt and satisfactory resolution of this matter.”
The power plant repeatedly has been caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian technicians continued running the power station after Russian troops seized it. Its last reactor was shut down in September as a precautionary measure as constant shelling nearby damaged electric transmission lines to the plant.
The plant is a strategic trophy for Russia and has triggered worldwide concern as the only nuclear plant caught up in modern warfare. Active fighting nearby means it’s unlikely to start producing electricity again soon even if Russia installs its own management.
It is like a town unto itself, with some 11,000 workers before the war. While many have fled amid the fighting, others have stayed to ensure the safety of its radioactive material and structures.
Energoatom spokespeople told The Associated Press on Saturday that employees of the Zaporizhzhia power plant are being forced to submit applications to report to Rosatom, Russia’s state-run nuclear energy giant that operates Russian nuclear plants.
Murashov was against handing the Zaporizhzhia plant over to Rosatom, but Energoatom’s spokespeople couldn’t confirm that this was the reason for his kidnapping.
Murashov had access to security codes, coordinated all the work at the plant, made sure protocols were being followed and reported to Kyiv, according to Energoatom’s spokespeople. Ukrainian authorities appointed him to run the plant several days before Russian troops rolled into Ukraine.
Nevertheless, Energoatom said it hasn’t lost connections with the plant and all important parameters of its work are still being reported to Kyiv.
Danes: Nord Stream 2 pipeline seems to have stopped leaking
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish Energy Agency says one of two ruptured natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea appears to have stopped leaking natural gas.
The agency said on Twitter on Saturday that it had been informed by the company operating the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that pressure appears to have stabilized in the line, which runs from Russia to Germany.
“This indicates that the leaking of gas in this pipeline has ceased,” the Danish Energy Agency said.
Undersea blasts that damaged the Nord Stream I and 2 pipelines last week have led to huge methane leaks. Nordic investigators said the blasts involved several hundred pounds of explosives.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of sabotaging the Russia-built pipelines, a charge vehemently denied by the United States and its allies.
The U.S.-Russia clashes continued later at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York called by Russia on the pipeline attacks and as Norwegian researchers published a map projecting that a huge plume of methane from the damaged pipelines will travel over large swaths of the Nordic region.
Speaking Friday in Moscow, Putin claimed that “Anglo-Saxons” in the West have turned from imposing sanctions on Russia to “terror attacks,” sabotaging the pipelines in what he described as an attempt to “destroy the European energy infrastructure.”
U.S. President Joe Biden dismissed Putin’s pipeline claims as outlandish.
“It was a deliberate act of sabotage. And now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies. We will work with our allies to get to the bottom (of) precisely what happened,” Biden promised. “Just don’t listen to what Putin’s saying. What he’s saying we know is not true.”
U.S. officials said the Putin claim was trying to shift attention from his annexation of parts of Ukraine on Friday.
“We’re not going to let Russia’s disinformation distract us or the world from its transparently fraudulent attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said Friday.
European nations, which have been reeling under soaring energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have noted that it is Russia, not Europe, that benefits from chaos in the energy markets.
Ward throws 3 TDs as Washington State beats Cal 28-9
PULLMAN — Cameron Ward threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns as Washington State beat California 28-9 on Saturday, despite Ward being intercepted twice in the end zone.
Renard Bell caught eight passes for 115 yards and a touchdown for Washington State (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12), which played four of its first five games at home.
Jack Plummer completed 23 of 33 passes for 273 yards for California (3-2, 1-1), which was coming off a big win over Arizona.
Both teams scored over 40 points last weekend, but points were scarce for most of this game.
After a scoreless first quarter, Washington State got a 34-yard punt return by Robert Ferrel, coupled with a personal foul on the Bears, to start a drive on the Cal 20-yard line. Jaylen Jenkins ran the ball in from the 2 for a 7-0 lead.
Cal drove to the WSU 24, but had to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Dario Longhetto to pull within 7-3.
On WSU’s next drive, Ward was intercepted in the end zone by Cal safety Daniel Scott. The Golden Bears advanced to midfield, but Plummer was sacked on consecutive plays and they had to punt.
Washington State kept the 7-3 lead at halftime in a defensive battle, with each team barely topping 100 yards of offense.
Washington State had the first drive of the second half, and Ward quickly connected with Bell on a 47-yard completion to the Cal 17. Ferrel caught a 17-yard touchdown pass barely a minute into the half for a 14-3 lead.
Cal went three-and-out, and Washington State advanced to the Bears’ 21-yard line. But a scrambling Ward was intercepted in the end zone again, this time by Craig Woodson, to kill the drive.
Jaydn Ott scored on a 2-yard run for California early in the fourth quarter, a touchdown set up by receptions of 30 and 49 yards by Jeremiah Hunter. The 2-point conversion pass failed and Washington State led 14-9.
Ward threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Bell four plays later to lift the Cougars to a 21-9 lead with 12 minutes left in the game.
Ward added another touchdown pass to tight end Billy Riviere with six minutes left.
Ott, who ran for 274 yards and three touchdowns last week against Arizona, was held to 69 yards on Saturday.
Washington State: The Cougars defense seems to have recovered from a collapse that allowed Oregon to score three quick touchdowns in the closing minutes of the Ducks’ 44-41 win last week.
California: The Golden Bears took a step back from their 49-31 win over Arizona last weekend.
The Cougars play at No. 6 USC next Saturday in their toughest challenge of the season.
WASHINGTON STATE 28, CALIFORNIA 9
California 0 3 0 6— 9
Washington St. 0 7 7 14—28
WSU—Jenkins 2 run (Janikowski kick), 13:18.
CAL—FG Longhetto 42, 9:10.
WSU—Ferrel 17 pass from C.Ward (Janikowski kick), 13:51.
CAL—Ott 2 run (pass failed), 13:28.
WSU—Bell 37 pass from C.Ward (Janikowski kick), 12:00.
WSU—Riviere 1 pass from C.Ward (Janikowski kick), 6:19.
RUSHING—California, Ott 16-69, Sturdivant 1-(minus 10), Jac.Plummer 7-(minus 28). Washington St., Watson 14-52, Jenkins 5-41, C.Ward 2-(minus 8), (Team) 4-(minus 13).
PASSING—California, Jac.Plummer 23-33-0-273, Millner 1-4-0-7. Washington St., C.Ward 27-40-2-343.
RECEIVING—California, Ott 7-41, Hunter 6-109, Sturdivant 6-71, Latu 2-36, M.Young 1-22, Anderson 1-1, Terry 1-0. Washington St., Bell 8-115, Ferrel 6-79, Stribling 3-66, Ollie 3-35, Jenkins 2-4, Smithson 1-17, Victor 1-13, Peters 1-8, Meredith 1-5, Riviere 1-1.
Brazil sees worst forest fires in years; candidates are silent
RIO DE JANEIRO — September has come and gone, marking another painful milestone for the world’s largest rainforest. It was the worst month for fire in the Amazon in over a decade.
Satellites detected over 42,000 fires in 30 days, according to Brazil’s national space institute. It was the first time since 2010 that fires in the Amazon topped 40,000 in a single month.
This September was two and a half times worse than last. Coming at the peak of the dry season, it’s usually the worst month for both fire and deforestation.
The official data for forest loss goes only through Sept. 23 so far, yet is already 14 percent more devastating than September 2021. In just those three weeks, the Amazon lost 434 square miles of rainforest, an area larger than New York City.
The surge in fire occurs amid a polarizing presidential campaign. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is seeking a second four-year term against leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who ruled Brazil between 2003 and 2010 and leads in the polls. The first round of the election is today.
Despite the smoke clogging the air of entire Amazon cities, state elections have largely ignored environmental issues. Along with the president, Brazilians will elect governors and state and national parliaments.
In Para state, worst for both deforestation and fire, the subject of deforestation was barely touched on during a TV debate among gubernatorial candidates held Tuesday by the Globo network.
Over an hour and a half, only one candidate mentioned the steep increase in deforestation. Globo, Brazil’s leading television network, did not even select it as one of eight debate topics.
Protecting the forest is not a high priority for the population, after years of pandemic and a deteriorating economy, said Paulo Barreto, a researcher with the nonprofit Amazon Institute of People and the Environment. “But the fact that journalists don’t ask is an even bigger problem.”
Deforestation can lead to more poverty, he said. “On the other hand, there are growing economic opportunities related to conservation.”
Cha-ching! Biden embraces his election-year fundraising role
WASHINGTON — Whenever a donor’s unsilenced cellphone goes off at a fundraiser while President Joe Biden is talking, he has the same joke ready to go: It’s Donald Trump on the other line.
“If that’s Trump calling me again, tell him I’m busy,” Biden said during an event last week for the Democratic Governors Association, repeating a variation of the quip he also relayed during receptions in Illinois and New York earlier this year. The crowd of a few dozen, as they always do, chuckled as the president continued with the rest of his remarks.
It’s one glimpse of Biden as fundraiser in chief — a man who schmoozes with aplomb while raking in millions at receptions that will be a fixture of his political schedule during the final stretch before Election Day, Nov. 8. At these events, celebrities are spotted and alcohol is consumed, while Biden gets the one-on-one interactions he had missed for much of his campaign and presidency due to COVID-19.
The fundraisers — held in lavish Manhattan apartments, drab conference centers and backyard tents glammed up with chandeliers — have been one of the most visible ways Biden has been deployed this election year at a time when his approval ratings remain underwater and many Democrats aren’t eager to stand by him on the campaign trail.
“Joe Biden is Joe Biden. He’s real; he’s down to earth. If he knows the people in the room … he’s even more relaxed,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., a close ally. “He gets all kinds of questions; he answers them honestly. He probably gives his staff heart attacks.”
So far this year, Biden has headlined 11 receptions to raise cash directly for the Democratic National Committee, and they have brought in more than $19.6 million, according to the committee. The events have ranged from a $300,000 haul at a yacht club in Portland to a cozy, 18-person affair (with four others on video screens) at Hotel Washington near the White House that took in more than $3 million. A pair of fundraisers at mansions in Southern California during the Summit of the Americas in June raked in $5 million in a matter of hours.
Separate from the Democratic National Committeeevents, Biden spoke at a fundraiser in September benefiting Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that brought in more than $450,000 for the state Democratic Party.
The governors association event raised $1 million, and Biden was to have appeared on Tuesday at a fundraiser on behalf of Charlie Crist, the nominee for governor in Florida who has not been shy about wanting the president to campaign with him. That political trip was postponed due to Hurricane Ian.
The Democratic National Committee also enlists Biden for solicitations sent to its grassroots donor list, with emails signed by the president consistently raising the most money for the committee, party officials say. As of last week, the committee has raised more than $107 million, the most at this point in any year and an amount that Democratic officials credited in large part to Biden’s direct involvement.
The president seems to particularly relish the in-person interactions that a private fundraiser offers.
A famously chummy politician, Biden makes sure at any big-dollar event that his hosts are made to feel special and recognized. At a June fundraiser in Beverly Hills, Calif., at the home of billionaire media mogul Haim Saban, the president mused to Saban’s wife, Cheryl, that both men had “married way above our station.” And standing in the 65th-floor apartment of Henry and Marsha Laufer overlooking New York’s Central Park, Biden gushed over the “magnificent” view, noting: “I don’t know if there’s a better view in New York than here.”