WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s advisers and Democratic Party leaders were preparing for more than ever Political protests on the campaign trail This year, from both the left and the right, and we recently began developing a plan to address it, according to four people familiar with the plan.
As part of the strategy, Biden advisers are trying to confront a dynamic that has only recently emerged: the rise of the president’s protests. Israel-Hamas war politics and demonstrators make it difficult for guests and, in at least one case, the host, to attend events.
As the war in Gaza drags on with Biden’s continued support for Israel, such incidents are becoming more frequent. Pro-Palestinian protesters were dragged away on Wednesday United Auto Workers event in the middle of the president’s speech. A day earlier, Biden was interrupted more than a dozen times by protesters calling for a cease-fire during an event promoted by his campaign. general elections are started. The apparent coordinated effort included occasional chants of “genocide Joe,” prompting the president to deliver a tumultuous marquis speech.
A Biden aide later said it was “less than ideal” when such violations occurred, but “absolutely unfortunate” when they overshadowed the main presidential message.
While protests are evergreen in political events for both Democrats and Republicans, Biden is facing growing disruption within his own party over one particular policy decision. The protests risk undermining the central message of the Biden campaign: that he brings unity and stability to the country, unlike his expected GOP challenger, former President Donald Trump, who is trying to exploit divisions within the president’s voting coalition. As a candidate running on a promise to protect American democracy, including free speech, Biden faces a particular challenge in limiting the disruption of protesters without being too heavy-handed, aides said.
With more protests expected throughout 2024, according to Biden officials, to address the issue, Democratic officials have tapped a veteran who pre-plans campaign events to oversee a new approach.
Doug Landry, who has worked on logistics planning for several presidential campaigns, has been tasked with helping critics of Biden’s policies find a way to express themselves freely, but not to the point of disrupting campaign events or preventing supporters from attending. officials said.
Landry was behind the scenes at Biden’s events in Virginia on Tuesday and Washington on Tuesday, briefing volunteers and campaign aides on the plans.
Biden’s aides have been training the president on how to handle protests during his speeches, officials said. When protesters of his Israeli policies disrupted an event in South Carolina calling for a ceasefire in the war two weeks ago, Biden said he respected their passion as supporters in the audience chanted “four more years”. He took a similar approach at Virginia State on Tuesday, though he became visibly irritated as the breaks wore on.
Planning for large events like the Democratic National Convention is still in its early stages, but the Biden team’s strategy now includes taking concrete steps before all events to ensure access points remain open and accessible.
Given that potential protests have been a standard part of campaigning for years, officials say they approach 2024 with a greater likelihood of disruptive activity.
Volunteers at the events are trained to watch out for potential protesters, officials said, though they cannot prevent them from participating. For example, at Tuesday’s event in Virginia, volunteers saw attendees with pins pointing to their messages about the Israel-Hamas war, prompting officials to remain vigilant.
Still, no Biden official expected the protesters to interrupt the president 13 times, and now they fear it’s a playbook for demonstrators at future events.
The protests have been a particular problem for the president’s campaign fundraisers, sources familiar with their plans to address them said, so much so that Democratic donors raised the issue last month during a summit held by the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee in Washington. , according to numerous participants.
A week before a donor meeting, actor and director Rob Reiner couldn’t even attend a Biden fundraiser because pro-Palestinian protesters blocked several entrances to the venue, a source familiar with the matter said. he said. A few days earlier, a Biden fundraiser in Boston got off to a late start because pro-Palestinian protesters blocked guests from parking at the venue, according to an attendee.
The issue was not limited to presidential events.
Democratic members of Congress also face regular protests when they attend district offices or local events. Addresses for some congressional fundraisers have now been left out of invitations to make it harder for groups to plan large-scale protests, a Democratic official said. Instead, the official said, participants are given the exact location hours before the fundraiser begins.
Trump was met with protests at his last events and told one of them to “get out of here”. The former president has not made free speech part of his campaign message and has suggested in the past that protesters at his events face physical harm or arrest.
Biden campaign communications director Michael Tyler tried to turn the protests into a political conflict with Trump when asked about the coordinated demonstrations at the president’s speech in Virginia on Wednesday.
“What you saw yesterday was a president who understood and respected the basic First Amendment right of Americans to peacefully protest. I think that’s very different from Donald Trump and the Republicans who don’t understand the same thing, who only want to use these situations to inflame and divide people further,” Tyler told reporters.
This summer’s Democratic National Convention in Chicago poses perhaps the biggest challenge for the president’s team.
National conventions are carefully choreographed and highly controlled affairs, so any disruption at a moment with much of the country watching can leave a black eye.
A spokesman for the Democratic Convention noted that both parties’ conventions are classified by the Secret Service as National Special Security Measures, meaning sites and hotels will be fortified by federal law enforcement during the main event. Both conventions will include designated “Free Speech” zones.
“We are coordinating closely with law enforcement to oversee security, including planning for the expression of First Amendment rights, and look forward to what we believe will be a safe and successful convention,” a spokesperson for the Democratic National Convention said in a statement. .