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Biden Tries to Soothe His Top Fund-Raisers on a Private Call

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President Biden spoke directly to some of his biggest fund-raisers and donors on Monday, repeating his assertion that he was staying in the race and telling them they needed to shift the focus of the campaign away from him and onto former President Donald J. Trump.

“I have one job, to beat Donald Trump,” Mr. Biden said on a call with his campaign’s National Finance Committee, adding that he was “the best person” to do that, according to a listener who relayed the president’s remark to The New York Times. He said it was time to put Mr. Trump in the “bull’s-eye,” according to a second listener.

The president’s 19-minute remarks to donors amounted to the most formal entreaty to his financiers since his poor debate performance over a week ago that they should stay the course.

His appearance, which was announced to his fund-raisers just 24 minutes before the call was set to begin, came after he sent a defiant letter to congressional Democrats on Monday morning rejecting the idea that he should drop out and gave an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in which he invited challengers to try to stop him at the party’s convention next month.

Mr. Biden took four questions on the donor call, screened by his aides, about how he planned to proceed as a candidate. One asked for a 30-second elevator pitch to relay to voters. Another sought to understand how Mr. Biden could weather this round of media criticism. A third wanted to know how he would handle the next debate.

Mr. Biden’s remarks were described to The Times by almost a dozen people who listened to the conference call.

As pressure has built within the Democratic Party for Mr. Biden to step aside, several groups of donors have begun to agitate for a different nominee, though many wealthy Democrats remain unsure whether they have any leverage. Mr. Biden and his top aides have sought to position the effort to remove him from the ticket as a phenomenon driven by the party’s wealthy elite.

Democratic panic has enveloped Mr. Biden and his campaign team since the debate, with an intense focus on his mental acuity amid questions about his ability to energetically campaign and serve as president for another four years — the subject of an interview he held on Friday with ABC News.

On the Monday call, Mr. Biden implored his donors to switch the focus back to Mr. Trump — a pivot Democrats have demanded in recent days in an attempt to change the subject from Mr. Biden’s own fitness.

“Attack, attack, attack,” Mr. Biden said when asked about the next debate and how he would change his preparation and framing.

The call, which also included Gov. Wes Moore of Maryland and Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, the president’s campaign chair, began more than 30 minutes late, with irritated donors stewing in front of blank Zoom screens. Mr. Biden’s appearance was announced to his fund-raisers just 24 minutes before the call was set to begin. Opinions of Mr. Biden’s performance were mixed — several participants told The Times that Mr. Biden had some bright, reassuring moments, while others were left unsatisfied and perturbed, especially by the screening of questions.

Mr. Biden was also asked about the unsparing media criticism of his debate performance and his communications strategy to beat that. One donor implored him to combat the narrative by bringing back “Scranton Joe,” his blue-collar political persona from Pennsylvania.

“He’s only three years younger than I am, and I’ll take him on in anything,” Mr. Biden said of Mr. Trump. He reiterated his accomplishments as president, and vowed to drive home that message to voters.

At one point, Mr. Biden fielded a question from a woman who said that she would crawl across broken glass for him, but she added that she wanted to know what his elevator-pitch message would be for activists as they knock on doors.

Mr. Biden talked about his record and said to tell people he also came from a middle-class background, referring to himself as “Joe Biden” in the third person and suggesting that he would work to bring down health-care costs, among other things.

Mr. Biden was also asked about Project 2025, an effort by Mr. Trump’s allies to reshape the federal government and put far more power in his hands if he wins back the presidency. Mr. Biden said his campaign would spend significant amounts of money to spread a negative message about Mr. Trump’s second-term agenda, despite the former president’s attempts to distance himself from the effort, which was spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation and some of his former aides.

The National Finance Committee consists of a wide range of Democratic donors, including some of the wealthiest people in the country, as well as a number of upper-middle-class liberal activists who are less well-known but host Mr. Biden when he comes to town.

The call was hastily scheduled just the day before, and some fund-raisers, still returning from July 4 holiday vacations, complained about the lack of notice. Last Monday evening, Ms. O’Malley Dillon offered a similar call to about 500 of Mr. Biden’s top fund-raisers, during which the campaign offered few pieces of new information but encouraged a general attitude of patience and calm. A week later, the campaign decided that it needed Mr. Biden himself to soothe donors’ anxiety.

Kate Kelly, Shane Goldmacher and Kenneth P. Vogel contributed reporting.

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