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Hollywood stars help Biden raise $28 million during a fundraiser featuring dire warnings about Trump

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Some of Hollywood’s brightest stars headlined a glitzy fundraiser for President Joe Biden on Saturday night, helping raise what his reelection campaign said was $28 million and hoping to energize would-be supporters ahead of a November election that they argued repeatedly was among the most important in the nation’s history.

George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Barbra Streisand were among those who took the stage at the 7,100-seat Peacock Theater in Los Angeles. Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel interviewed Biden and former President Barack Obama, who both stressed the need to defeat former President Donald Trump in a race that’s expected to be exceedingly close.

During more than half an hour of discussion, Kimmel asked if the country was suffering from amnesia about the presumptive Republican nominee, to which Biden responded, “all we gotta do is remember what it was like” when Trump was in the White House.

Luminaries from the entertainment world have increasingly lined up to help Biden’s campaign, and just how important the event was to his reelection bid could be seen in the president flying through the night across nine time zones, from the G7 summit in southern Italy to Southern California, to attend.

He also missed a summit in Switzerland about ways to end Russia’s war in Ukraine, instead dispatching Vice President Kamala Harris who made her own whirlwind trip of her own to represent the United States there — a stark reminder of the delicate balance between geopolitics and his bid to win a second term.

Further laying bare the political implications were police in riot gear outside the theater Saturday night, ready for protests from pro-Palestinian activists angry about his administration’s handling of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

The event featured singing by Jack Black and Sheryl Lee Ralph, and actors Kathryn Hahn and Jason Bateman introduced Kimmel at the start of the interview with Biden and Obama. The comedian deadpanned, “I was told I was getting introduced by Batman, not Bateman.”

But he quickly pivoted to far more serious topics, saying that “so much is at stake in this election” and listing off women’s rights, health care and noting that “even the ballot is on the ballot” in a reference to the Biden administration’s calls to expand voting rights.

Kimmel asked the president what he was most proud of accomplishing, and Biden said he thought the administration’s approach to the economy “is working.”

“We have the strongest economy in the world today,” Biden said, adding “we try to give ordinary people an even chance.”

Trump spent Saturday campaigning in Detroit and criticized Biden for weakening the economy and stoking inflation. The president was fundraising “with out-of-touch elitist Hollywood celebrities,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt.

But Biden told the crowd in California that “we passed every major piece of legislation we attempted to get done.” And Obama expressed admiration for sweeping legislation on health care, public works, the environment, technology manufacturing, gun safety and other major initiatives that the administration of his former vice president has overseen.

“What we’re seeing now is a byproduct of in 2016. There were a whole bunch of folks who, for whatever reason, sat out,” said Obama, who, like Biden wore a dark suit with a white shirt with an open collar.

Obama added that “hopefully we have learned our lesson, because these elections matter in very concrete ways.”

When the conversation turned to three Supreme Court justices who Trump nominated and who helped overturn Roe v. Wade — the landmark decision guaranteeing a constitutional right to an abortion — the crowd expressed its displeasure to which Obama responded, “don’t hiss, vote.” That was a play on his common refrain prioritizing voting over booing.

Biden said that if he were to win four more years in the White House he may get the chance to nominate two new justices — though even that probably wouldn’t drastically overhaul a court that current features a 6-3 conservative majority.

He also suggested that if Trump wins back the White House, “one of the scariest parts” was the Supreme Court and how there has “never been a court that’s so far out of step.”

Biden also referenced reports that an upside-down flag, a symbol associated with Trump’s false claims of election fraud, was displayed outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in January 2021. He worried Saturday that, if Trump is reelected, “He’s going to appoint two more who fly their flags upside down.”

Biden’s campaign said it was still counting, but that Saturday night’s gathering had taken in at least $28 million — more money than any event for a Democratic candidate in history.

That meant outpacing the president’s fundraiser in March at Radio City Music Hall in New York, which featured late-night host Stephen Colbert interviewing Biden, Obama and former President Bill Clinton, which raised $26 million.

Biden held an early lead in the campaign money race against Trump, but the former president has gained ground in recent months, after formally locking up the Republican nomination.

Trump outpaced Biden’s New York event in April, raking in $50.5 million at a gathering of major donors at the Florida home of billionaire investor John Paulson. The former president’s campaign and the Republican National Committee announced they had raised a whopping $141 million in May, padded by tens of millions of dollars in contributions that flowed in after Trump’s guilty verdict in his criminal hush money trial.

That post-conviction bump came after Trump and the Republican Party announced collecting $76 million in April, far exceeding Biden and the Democrats’ $51 million for the month.

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Weissert reported from Washington.

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