Vice President Joe Biden dined with an A-list of tech business leaders at Zibibbo restaurant in downtown Palo Alto Wednesday night to discuss the economy, part of what the White House said is its "ongoing dialogue with the business community on working together to strengthen the economy, support entrepreneurship, and put the American people back to work."
A White House official said those scheduled to attend the evening event included Apple CEO Tim Cook; Netflix Chairman and CEO Reed Hastings; DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg; Zynga co-founder and CEO Mark Pincus; Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello; Symantec President and CEO Enrique Salem; Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg; Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt; and University of California, Berkeley, Professor Laura Tyson, who was President Bill Clinton's chief economic adviser during his administration's first four years.
The private event followed a San Francisco fundraising luncheon held in the Bently Reserve in the city's Financial District, which itself was followed by a more exclusive fundraiser -- with only about 10 or 20 donors -- at the same site.
Tickets to Wednesday's luncheon cost $2,500 per person, or $5,000 for admission to both the luncheon and a photo reception; $7,500 got a couple into both events, while $10,000 got all that plus a pre-reception clutch with Biden. Or, donors were encouraged to pony up $10,000 now for a package that got them not only this luncheon but also one with First Lady Michelle Obama in March and a third event with President Barack Obama sometime within the first quarter as well.
The first $5,000 from each donor goes to the Obama Victory Fund 2012 -- $2,500 each for the primary and general elections -- and anything above that goes to the Democratic National Committee.
The main event raised somewhere between $275,000 and $1.1 million; the campaign declined to give a more specific number.
Also Wednesday, Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, visited the VA Palo Alto Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, hearing from patients, staff and caregivers about care for wounded troops. After that, she and U.S. Chief Information Officer Aneesh Chopra took part in an "Apps for Heroes" event at the San Francisco office of Code for America, a nonprofit that pairs tech workers with local governments in need of innovation.
The vice president was scheduled to spend Wednesday night in San Francisco, before traveling Thursday to Reno and Los Angeles.
Press pool reporter Josh Richman of the Bay Area News Group was the only media allowed at the San Francisco fundraiser. He filed the following report:
Vice President Joe Biden was only slightly late arriving at the fundraising luncheon in the Bently Reserve, a former Federal Reserve Bank building converted into a conference center in the city's bustling Financial District. He spoke from 1:05 p.m. to 1:35 p.m.; the pool reporter was ushered out as he stepped away from the podium to start taking a few questions from the audience of about 110 campaign contributors.
Biden gave a shout-out to Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, who was seated at one of the dining tables.
"He is soon to be back in the majority, we are soon to have Speaker Pelosi. … All we need is 25 seats, and we never expected to get so much help from the Republicans," Biden said.
Not only did President Barack Obama's administration inherit a "near-bankrupt economy," he said, but also a nation in which the "fundamental bargain" with its middle class had been broken: a bargain that promised those responsible for increased productivity would be rewarded, and that their children's prospects would be as good as or better than their own. The deal was that if you played by the rules, you could look forward to owning a decent home in a safe neighborhood, your kids could go to a good school and afford a college education, and you could comfortably afford your retirement.
"That all changed," he said. "It really changed with incredible rapidity starting in the year 2000."
Incomes fell and income disparity grew to levels not seen since 1921, with 1 percent of Americans now making more than 23 percent of the nation's income, Biden said.
Instability grew with "policies of giving free reign to Wall Street," he said. "We saw all the reasonable restraints taken off, there was no longer much accountability and the result was obvious." Something as basic as a home mortgage became an incomprehensible paper trail, he said, as most people's main sources of wealth -- their homes' value and their 401(k) retirement accounts -- shrank or evaporated entirely.
The nation had lost 8 million jobs by the time the Obama administration was in place and able to act, he said.
"We started in a pretty deep hole," Biden said, recalling the first time President Obama sat down behind his Oval Office desk. "He said, 'You know, Joe, we bought in too high."
"And so we acted, and when we acted things began to happen," the vice president said.
Forcing the auto industry to reorganize not only has meant the return of some jobs, but also a public opinion -- the first in decades -- that U.S. cars are better made than foreign cars, he said.
The nation has seen 22 months of private-sector job creation -- "not enough," he said, but a gain of 3.5 million jobs. And the administration has pulled "160,000 troops out of Iraq," he said, an observation that brought applause from the audience.
A Republican wave in the 2010 midterm elections slowed that progress, he said. Rating agencies have estimated the nation's unemployment would be closer to 7 percent than 8.5 percent had the Administration's job bill not been sunk by House Republicans.
Biden's only gaffe came as he reached for a football metaphor and spoke of "the Giants on their way to the Super Bowl," bringing good-natured boos. He quickly apologized, saying he's used to talking about the San Francisco Giants' baseball victories, and went on talking about the "49ers on their way" to the big game.
Sometimes, he said, it takes one big event to crystallize the nation's political feelings. "(Hurricane) Katrina catalyzed everything about the Bush presidency -- it was a metaphoric as well as an actual disaster."
Republicans aren't bad, he said: "They just have a fundamentally different view of America than we do. … It's absolutely basic." GOP presidential nomination frontrunner Mitt Romney is "not a bad guy, he just has a fundamentally different view."
Romney believes the government should let foreclosures happen so the market can bottom out before recovery begins, Biden said, noting that stance doesn't address the tens of thousands of families that would be out on the street as a result. Biden said some Republicans even believe the U.S. should sent troops back into Iraq.
"The American public has figured out who these guys are and what their priorities are," he said. "The notion of income disparity for them is 'class warfare,'" while government support of renewable energy is "anathema to their notion of what is needed." And they favor tax cuts for the richest Americans, he said.
"These guys are just very, very different than we are," Biden said. "This is going to be the clearest choice the American public has had … probably since the late '20s or early '30s."
He cited former Boston Mayor Kevin White, who once said, "Don't compare me to the Almighty -- compare me to the alternative." On that basis, he said, he predicts "not only are we going to win, but we're going to win back the House of Representatives."
"We owe you a great deal," he told the crowd, recalling the 2008 campaign. "We caught lightning in a jar, and you guys were the jar and the lightning."
Super PACs will spend an estimated $250 million to $350 million this year on advertisements attacking President Obama, he said, but donors like those present Wednesday will let him fight back with "the most incredible ground game in the country," fielding tens of thousands of volunteers. "That is the single best asset any campaign can have."
He praised the donors not only for giving the campaign money but for lending it their good names in convincing friends, neighbors and others to support President Obama.
"It's one thing to write a check; it's another to put yourself out there and say, 'Yeah, they're my guys.'"
He and the president are "not so cocky that we think we can't be beat … but we have no intention of being beat," he said.
He recalled his father telling him "a job is about a lot more than a paycheck; it's about your dignity, it's about your self-respect, it's about your place in the community." He recounted his father's decision to leave him, his siblings and his mother with relatives in Scranton while going to find work in Wilmington, Del.
"My father was a graceful, dignified, proud man, and it had to be an incredibly hard thing to do."
Biden said that's why he's "so damn proud to work with Barack Obama. ... This guy feels it in his bones."
Attendees dined on a salad of baby arugula, dried apricot and goat's milk cheese topped with candied cardamom pistachios and pomegranate vinaigrette; and either an applewood-smoked bacon, wild mushroom, herb and shallot grilled chicken breast with white cheddar polenta and sautéed rapini, or a roasted Portobello Wellington with mushroom duxelles, sautéed spinach, chevre, tomato and roasted red pepper coulis, with petits fours for dessert.