Biden Fund-Raiser and Trump Visit to New York Preview Clashes to Come

The epicenter of the presidential campaign shifted to New York on Thursday, as the incumbent president and three of his predecessors descended on the area for dueling events that illustrated the kinds of political clashes that could come to define the general election.

For Democrats, it was a high-profile, celebrity-studded fund-raiser for President Biden in Manhattan. On Long Island, former President Donald J. Trump attended a wake for a New York City officer who was killed during a traffic stop on Monday. Together, the day’s events struck an unusual contrast in a general election campaign that has so far been largely defined by appearances in courtrooms and at small, invitation-only events.

Mr. Biden, along with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, appeared before 5,000 donors at a Radio City Music Hall event that campaign aides said raised $25 million. The eye-popping number set a record for a single political event, according to the aides, and offered a star-studded show of Democratic unity as the president heads into a difficult re-election campaign.

The three Democratic presidents spent much of their time in New York City wrapped in the glitz of their celebrity supporters. Tieless and in matching white shirts, they sat for an interview on a celebrity podcast, were roasted by the comedian Mindy Kaling and interviewed by Stephen Colbert, a late-night host.

“Our democracy is at stake, not a joke. I think democracy is literally at stake,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re at an inflection point in history.”

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Clinton made the case for re-electing Mr. Biden, praising his work expanding health care coverage, creating jobs, capping insulin prices and navigating the competing demands of the war in Gaza.

“It’s not just the negative case against the presumptive nominee on the other side. It’s the positive case for somebody who’s done an outstanding job,” said Mr. Obama. “We also have a positive story to tell about the future and that is something that Joe Biden has worked on, diligently, each and every day.”

Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, made his own appearance in the area several hours earlier, at a funeral home on Long Island surrounded by hundreds of police officers and family members of the slain officer. While not officially a campaign stop, aides used the appearance to draw a sharp contrast with Mr. Biden, attacking the Democrats for spending their evening with donors and celebrities. In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has spent far more time battling in court than in battleground states.

Mr. Biden, meanwhile, has increased the pace of his events since his State of the Union address early this month. But the fund-raiser was one of the largest crowds he has appeared before as president. It will expand an already significant cash advantage, too, raising in one night $5 million more than Mr. Trump reported collecting in February.

The day’s events underscored a central dynamic of the race: Mr. Biden is campaigning with the force of the Democratic establishment behind his bid, as Mr. Trump stands largely alone.

While Mr. Trump has been endorsed by many Republicans in Congress, a small but persistent wing of the party has declined to support his third run for the White House. The only other living former Republican president has not endorsed his bid, nor has Mike Pence, his former vice president.

Mr. Biden faces a different problem. Nearly all Democratic Party officials, politicians and strategists stand behind his effort. Yet, he has faced sustained opposition from a vocal minority of progressives who have protested the war in Gaza, through protest votes and event disruptions.

On Thursday, a group of several hundred protesters marched through the rain to stand outside the fund-raiser. “Biden, Biden, you’re a liar, we demand a cease-fire,” they chanted. Mr. Biden has faced growing anger from political supporters and global allies about the civilian death toll in Israel’s war on Hamas.

Jacob Sierra, 27, said he was at the protest because “Joe Biden has been enabling the genocide.” A registered Democrat from Brooklyn, Mr. Sierra voted for Mr. Biden in 2020 but doesn’t think he’ll vote for the president — or Mr. Trump — this year.

“We’re just really frustrated with the fact that this is still going on,” said Mr. Sierra, who works for a nonprofit. “We’re seeing vague sympathy from the president and other elected officials but there is not a lot of action.”

Inside the hall, the three presidents sat in matching white armchairs and took the stage to strains of “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, the unofficial bard of the Democratic Party.

Before their appearance, Ms. Kaling warmed up the crowd with jokes about those who spent $500,000 to attend and the age of the men they were all gathered to celebrate. Ms. Kaling, 44, said that she looked like a “cast member on Euphoria” compared to Mr. Biden, Mr. Obama and Mr. Clinton.

Protesters disrupted the program by shouting “blood on your hands.” Some were escorted out of the hall by security. “You can’t just talk and not listen,” Mr. Obama snapped, as he was interrupted. “That’s what the other side does.”

When asked about the situation in Gaza, Mr. Biden expressed understanding for both sides, saying there are “too many innocent victims, Israeli and Palestinian.”

“It’s understandable Israel has such a profound anger and Hamas is still there,” he said. “But we must, in fact, stop the effort that is resulting in significant deaths of innocent civilians, particularly children.”

The appearance ended with a joke, when Mr. Colbert, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama put on aviator sunglasses as their “impression” of the president.

Mr. Biden cracked that he’s a man who “loves two things: Ray-Ban sunglasses and ice cream.”

A musical program featured a series of celebrity endorsers including Queen Latifah, Lizzo, Ben Platt, Cynthia Erivo and Lea Michele.

Only a small group of press traveling with the White House was allowed in the event and video footage by the news media was prohibited. Before the fund-raiser, the three presidents participated in a joint interview on “Smartless,” a podcast hosted by the actors Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes.

Mr. Trump’s appearance struck a decidedly different tone. The former president spent about 30 minutes inside a funeral home in suburban Massapequa on Long Island, visiting with the widow and 1-year-old son of Officer Jonathan Diller. Mr. Diller was fatally shot during a traffic stop on Monday.

While not an official campaign event, Mr. Trump took the opportunity to press a tough-on-crime message. Mr. Trump, who is facing four criminal cases, including one in Manhattan that is going to trial in less than three weeks, stood in front of more than a dozen police officers and proclaimed the need for the country to “get back to law and order.”

His campaign pushed a different message, drawing a sharp contrast between Mr. Trump’s visit and the other political event happening in the region.

“President Trump will be honoring the legacy of Officer Diller,” Steven Cheung, a campaign spokesman, said on social media.

Mayor Eric Adams of New York, who attended the wake after Mr. Trump, told reporters that Mr. Biden had called him to offer condolences that Mr. Adams said he would relay to the family. Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Biden has supported law enforcement officers throughout his entire career.

“Violent crime surged under the previous administration,” she said, speaking aboard Air Force One, as the president traveled to New York City. “The Biden-Harris administration have done the polar opposite, taking decisive action from the very beginning to fund the police and achieving a historic reduction in crime.”

Michael Gold and Julian Roberts-Grmela contributed reporting.