DECORAH, IA – Joe Biden declined Friday to rule out appointing political donors to ambassadorships or other posts if he wins the 2020 presidential election. But he pledged that his nominees, regardless of their contributor status, would be the “best people” for their posts.
Biden’s position diverges from fellow Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, who has sworn off high-dollar fundraisers and repeatedly mocked the longstanding bipartisan practice of U.S. presidents distributing ambassadorships around the world to some of their top campaign donors.
“I’m going to appoint the best people possible,” Biden said Friday aboard his campaign bus in rural Iowa. “Nobody, in fact, will be appointed by me based on anything they contributed."
Still, he added, “you have some of the people out there ... that are fully qualified to head up everything from being the ambassador to NATO to be ambassador to France ... who may or may not have contributed.” But he insisted those contributions “would not be any basis” for his decision.
Warren and fellow progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders have capitalized on their grassroots fundraising focus, highlighting that they don't hold traditional high-dollar fundraisers like those fueling the campaigns for Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.
Biden hit back at some of that implicit criticism earlier this week, noting to reporters that Warren and Sanders seeded their presidential bids by transferring millions of dollars from their Senate accounts. Warren, especially, built her initial war chest in part from the kinds of larger individual contributors she now swears off. Warren also has made clear she'd fulfill the traditional fundraising agreements with the Democratic National Committee were she the nominee, meaning she'd headline general election fundraisers that would draw mega-donors whose money would help both the party's presidential campaign and down-ballot candidates around the country.
Warren, Biden and Sanders have helped the DNC raise money this cycle, but Biden, especially, has gotten scrutiny from progressives as a candidate tied to the traditional monied establishment. As late as Friday, Sanders sent his grassroots email list a fundraising appeal noting that a super political action committee backing Biden had just launched a $500,000-plus ad buy in Iowa.
There's still some irony to Biden facing such scrutiny — he's fallen short of the fundraising marks set by previous presidential heavyweight campaigns like those of Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2008. Warren, Biden and Buttigieg all have outraised Biden, with Buttigieg finding considerable success among younger, wealthy Democrats in California and on the upper East Coast.
Biden also has noted that he opens his fundraisers, in part, to the press, allowing small groups of reporters to hear his remarks to donors at events across the country. Warren this week gave Biden indirect credit for the move as she pressured Buttigieg to open his fundraisers. Buttigieg has not offered any definitive plans to open his money-raising events.
Buttigieg has rocketed to top-tier status, first with his prodigious fundraising, then by topping recent polls in Iowa, where the Feb. 3 caucus starts Democrats' 2020 voting. But Buttigieg this week has acknowledged his most glaring weakness with a Deep South tour focused on increasing his negligible support among black voters.
Biden declined Friday to take shots at Buttigieg's struggles, but took the opportunity to tout his own standing among black voters. "I think anybody has the possibility of broadening their coalition," Biden said, adding: "I have more support from the black community than anybody at all running, combined, everybody, because that's where I come from. My political base has been there."
Biden is right that he depended on "overwhelming black support in my career" as a Delaware senator and then vice president to President Barack Obama. Polls suggest he has at least a plurality of black support less than three months before the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary gives black voters their first major say in the nominating process.