Biden in Los Angeles: President holds star-studded Hollywood campaign event

After flying through the night across nine time zones, from southern Italy to Southern California, President Joe Biden shifted his focus from Russia’s challenge of Western unity to raking in big money for his reelection campaign at a Hollywood fundraiser featuring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

Biden went straight from the Group of Seven summit of wealthy democracies, where Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine took center stage, to Los Angeles and the glitzy gathering unfolding Saturday night at the Peacock Theater. The journey was only broken up by a layover to refuel outside Washington.

Former President Barack Obama joined headliners Clooney and Roberts, and late-night host Jimmy Kimmel for an interview onstage. In a text message to donors beforehand, Roberts called it "a crucial time in the election." Kimmel wrote in his own text that presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump "will hate this, so let’s do it."

Luminaries from the entertainment world have increasingly lined up to help Biden’s campaign, hoping to provide a fundraising jolt and to energize would-be supporters to turn out ahead of Election Day against Trump.

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But hobnobbing with stars this time means Biden is skipping a summit in Switzerland about ways to end Russia’s war in Ukraine. Vice President Kamala Harris is representing the United States.

It’s a stark reminder that his responsibilities as president and his reelection effort can sometimes conflict.

"We are going to see an unprecedented and record-setting turnout from the media and entertainment world," Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood mogul, major Democratic donor and co-chair of Biden’s campaign, said in a statement.

A Biden fundraiser in March at Radio City Music Hall in New York featured late-night host Stephen Colbert interviewing the president, Obama and former President Bill Clinton. It raised a then-record $26 million, but the California event will bring in at least $28 million, according to the Biden campaign.

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Still, Trump has hauled in even bigger numbers.

He outpaced Biden’s New York event in April, raking in $50.5 million at a gathering of major donors at the Florida home of billionaire investor John Paulson. The former president’s campaign and the Republican National Committee announced they had raised a whopping $141 million in May, padded by tens of millions of dollars in contributions that flowed in after Trump’s guilty verdict in his criminal hush money trial.

That post-conviction bump came after Trump and the Republican Party announced collecting $76 million in April, far exceeding Biden and the Democrats’ $51 million for the month and narrowing a fundraising advantage Biden built earlier in the race.

With Biden absent at the gathering on Ukraine, Harris is making the trip to Switzerland and back in a little more than 24 hours.

At a joint appearance with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the G7 summit, Biden said Harris would be a strong representative of his administration at the meeting. But Zelenskyy previously suggested that it was "not a strong decision" for Biden to miss the event.

"I would want President Biden to be personally present," he said late last month, predicting that Putin would "stand and applaud" Biden not coming. Putin and Russian representatives also aren’t going to the summit.

Biden’s fundraiser also attracted protests from pro-Palestinian activists angry about his administration’s handling of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. Such demonstrations have become common wherever Biden goes in recent months, including outside his Radio City Music Hall fundraiser.

Weissert reported from Washington.