Originally Published: 14 JUN 23 11:20 ET
By Arlette Saenz and Betsy Klein, CNN
(CNN) — First lady Dr. Jill Biden is emerging as a prominent voice taking on Republicans and former President Donald Trump since his indictment – even as the White House has maintained a stay-silent strategy on the legal case.
In her first solo events of the campaign, the first lady has not shied away from critiquing the former president and offered a rare comment related to his legal woes as she reflected on Republican support for Trump despite his indictment.
“My heart feels so broken by a lot of the headlines that we see on the news,” she said during an off-camera fundraiser in New York City Monday, according to comments reported by the Associated Press and confirmed to CNN by someone in attendance. “Like I just saw, when I was on my plane, it said 61% of Republicans are going to vote, they would vote for Trump.”
“They don’t care about the indictment. So that’s a little shocking, I think,” she went on.
In a pair of Democratic fundraisers in California Tuesday evening, she warned of the impact “MAGA Republicans” would have on the country and framed the presidential election as a choice between the “corruption and chaos” of the Trump administration and stability offered by her husband.
“We cannot go back to those dark days,” the first lady said at a fundraiser in Marin County, California. “And with your help we won’t go back.”
The first lady’s willingness to take on Trump and Republicans has coincided with her stepped up efforts to raise money for the reelection campaign. She has been the only principal so far to speak in a political venue since news of Trump’s indictment broke last week, providing her a chance to lay out the differences with Trump and the GOP in the early stages of the campaign.
But her brief comment on the indictment also makes her the lone exception for a White House and campaign that have embraced a strategy of silence regarding the former president’s legal case.
The first lady’s remarks have come at fundraising events, which are off-camera and only open to a small group of pool reporters, often giving politicians and surrogates a chance to speak more freely. The first lady’s fundraising schedule was set before Trump’s indictment.
The president has repeatedly declined to weigh in on the indictment, and Biden’s advisers are all on the same page that any substantive comments about the case could risk providing Trump with fodder for his accusations that investigations into him are politically motivated.
Close allies of the White House have adopted a similar stance, and Biden’s team has sent the implicit message that anyone associated with the president should avoid saying anything that might link him to the case, according to people familiar with the matter.
But even as the president tries to stay quiet about the indictment, he and the campaign will undoubtedly take on Trump more broadly in the coming weeks and months, and the first lady has offered up some of the first critiques since the indictment.
“You know what’s in store if these MAGA Republicans win,” she said at a fundraiser in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. “We know it because we lived it. Remember how hard it was last time? This time, it’s going to be even harder.”
“The fight for freedom doesn’t end. This is the most important election of our lives,” she added.
Michael LaRosa, a former spokesperson for the first lady, indicated that Jill Biden would be empowered to take this tactic, particularly so close to the end-of-quarter fundraising deadline approaching at the end of the month.
“They have to raise money, juice up supporters, and motivate the donor base to continue giving and bundling. Their support is so needed, because whether we like it or not, this guy (Trump) could be back,” he said.
LaRosa noted that Biden’s language Tuesday evening in the Bay Area didn’t stray far from language she and the president have previously used.
“It’s clear she’s using the same poll-tested language they approved for the president to use during the midterms. The MAGA language is intended to paint the GOP with a broad brush. Her language is intentional – no matter who the nominee is, the Republicans own Donald Trump and the movement,” he said, adding that that language has “clearly been blessed and encouraged key Biden strategists.”
LaRosa compared the strategy to former President Bill Clinton’s 1996 efforts as an incumbent to paint his GOP opponents in the vein of “crazy radical Gingrich Republicans.”
While in the Bay Area, the first lady also spoke at an event for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, appearing with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as she argued Republicans are standing in the way of passing more gun control measures.
“He’s done everything in his power,” she said of the president. “And these changes will save lives. But it’s not enough. We know that. Joe knows that. We need Republicans in Congress to get out of the way.”
In the early stages of the campaign, the first lady is focusing on fundraising, courting high dollar donors to fill up the campaign’s war chest. She’s expected to be a frequent presence on the campaign trail in the lead up to Election Day after serving as one of the Democratic Party’s most active surrogates during the midterm elections.
There is much precedence for first ladies to be active campaigners, though not by Biden’s immediate predecessor.
Former first lady Melania Trump actively avoided the campaign trail as her president campaigned for reelection in 2020. She appeared alongside the then-president at a June 2019 kickoff rally in Florida, gave remarks at the Republican National Convention and made her first solo campaign appearance just one week before the election, where she offered a brief, broad criticism of Biden.
“Joe Biden’s policy and socialist agenda will only serve to destroy America and all that has been built in the past four years,” Melania Trump said at the appearance in Atglen, Pennsylvania.
Former first lady Michelle Obama was an active fundraiser and took a measured approach as she campaigned on her husband’s behalf, offering a rebuke of then-GOP nominee Mitt Romney during her 2012 Democratic National Convention speech without actually naming him.
At her stops this week, Jill Biden touted the president’s accomplishments, including bipartisan work on infrastructure and gun safety.
The first lady also spoke about her husband’s recent root canal, saying, “Nothing can slow him down, not even dental surgery.”
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