At Detroit fundraiser, Biden promises to be less 'polite' in second debate

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke to more than 100 donors at a fundraiser Wednesday evening in Detroit, blasting Republican President Donald Trump while promising to be less "polite” with fellow Democrats in next week's second presidential debate.

Local businessman Dennis Archer Jr. hosted the private campaign fundraiser for Biden at his home next to the exclusive Detroit Golf Club, where the Democratic presidential front runner stepped down from a sunny podium to speak in the middle of the lawn as guests formed a circle around him.

Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a house party at former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's house, Monday, July 15, 2019, in Waukee, Iowa.

Biden spoke mostly about Trump, criticizing the Republican incumbent on both domestic and foreign policy while arguing the president has hurt the country’s reputation around the world.

“Eight years of this man will change the nature of who we are in this country,” Biden said. “He wants to be president for a base, his base, about 30% of the public. I want to be president for all Americans, Democrats, Republicans, independents.”

Biden was introduced by Archer Jr. and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who endorsed Biden this week and noted his repeat trips to Detroit as vice president.

“At one point I was in the White House with him and President Obama, and the president said, ‘Joe’s problem is he thinks he’s vice president of Detroit,” Duggan recalled. “Well, we can’t wait until he is Detroit’s president.”

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Attendees included former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard, former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer ⁠(father of the host), civil rights attorney Butch Hollowell, former Detroit City Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel and Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah.

Former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson also attended the private fundraiser with his wife, Julianna Smoot, former White House social secretary and deputy manager on President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

Guests mingled on the lawn overlooking the Detroit Golf Club, which recently hosted the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic. Golfers at a nearby tee box occasionally peered over as attendees dined on mushroom burger sliders, pickled beat skewers and crab bites.

“The last thing you all need is another tax cut, and you ain’t getting it from me,” Biden told the affluent crowd, saying he would focus on growing the middle class if elected.

“When they do well, the wealthy do very well, and the poor have hope and have a way up.”

Biden rarely mentioned his Democratic primary competitors — joking that there were about 300 of them — until local businessman George Barnes, owner of Heritage Optical, urged him to be tougher in the Detroit debate next week.

“I’m not going to be as polite this time,” Biden vowed, referencing his sparring with Sen. Kamala Harris of California in the first debate. “Because this is the same person who asked me to come to California and nominate her in her convention.”

Barnes told Biden that criticism from Harris and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey could make him an even stronger candidate against Trump in the general election.

Booker on Wednesday accused Biden of being an “architect of mass incarceration” for helping pass a 1994 crime bill, a characterization the former senator disputed that afternoon.

“If they want to argue about the past, I can do that,” Biden said as he wrapped up his roughly 30-minute fundraiser speech. “I got a past I’m proud of. They got a past that’s not quite so good.”