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Hollywood Turns on Biden as Clooney Presses for Change

George Clooney Photographer: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images (FREDERIC J. BROWN/Photographer: FREDERIC J. BROWN/)

(Bloomberg) -- Since his dismal debate performance on June 27, President Joe Biden has steadily lost support in the part of the country that knows image and stagecraft the best: Hollywood.

Heavy hitters including Netflix Inc. Chairman Reed Hastings, superagent Ari Emanuel, heiress Abigail Disney, screenwriter Damon Lindelof and author Stephen King have joined the chorus calling on Biden to drop his reelection bid. On Wednesday, screen idol George Clooney weighed in with an opinion piece in the New York Times. 

“The dam has broken,” wrote Clooney, a lifelong Democrat who helped raise $30 million for the president at an event last month. “We can put our heads in the sand and pray for a miracle in November, or we can speak the truth.”

Los Angeles-area money wranglers and campaign advisers who spoke to Bloomberg News said the president has lost a great deal of support in an industry that has been a tried-and-true money machine for Democrats. The backlash is growing, according to one major Biden fundraiser who asked not to be identified. Donors aren’t sure their contributions will make a difference on Election Day.

For guidance, many in the entertainment industry have turned to Jeffrey Katzenberg, who serves as a co-chair of Biden’s reelection campaign and is one of Biden’s top donors. His legendary, star-studded fundraisers have pulled in millions for the Biden campaign, but the DreamWorks’ co-founder has been largely silent since the debate.

Some in Hollywood are now turning against Katzenberg and others who they say have intentionally shielded Biden’s decline until now. 

Katzenberg joined other moguls this week at the annual Sun Valley Conference in Idaho, where he was spotted chatting with sports agent Casey Wasserman, former Activision Blizzard Chief Executive Officer Bobby Kotick and onetime CIA official Hank Crumpton. Katzenberg couldn’t be reached for comment.

Another attendee, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, said the November election is very much top of mind among the studio executives and technology titans.

“I think just like the whole country, people here are very worried about how do we kind of navigate what is going to be a very tumultuous year politically,” he said in an interview on the grounds of the Sun Valley resort. 

Hoffman, a major Democratic donor, spent $2 million on a write-in campaign for Biden in New Hampshire. 

Biden has faced a steady drumbeat of calls to withdraw as the Democratic nominee from members of his own party in recent days. Former House Nancy Pelosi delivered tepid support for Biden on Wednesday, saying “it’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run” because “time is running short.” 

Biden faced a new round of defections late Wednesday with the first Democratic senator, Peter Welch of Vermont, calling for him to step aside.

The 81-year-old candidate has said he’s staying in the race. 

Biden, who has shied away from lengthy unscripted interactions with reporters, is scheduled to hold a press conference on Thursday. Since the debate, his team has increased his media availability to give more visibility into his off-the-cuff interactions. Pelosi told fellow Democrats to “hold off” on publicly calling for his ouster until later this week.

Biden’s team is trying to shore up support in Congress and with voters. Top aides, including campaign Chairwoman Jen O’Malley Dillon, scheduled a last-minute meeting with Senate Democrats for Thursday. Biden is also scheduled to do an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt to air Monday night. That follows an interview last week with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that was widely seen as doing little to instill confidence with voters and party leaders that he’s up to four more years on the job. Stephanopoulos later told a passerby on the street that he didn’t think Biden could serve out another term.

Biden’s team has rejected that his age and mental health are impediments to his campaign. But Emanuel, the CEO of Endeavor Group Holding Inc. and a major Democratic donor, wrote a column in the Economist on Monday urging Biden to end his campaign.

“America is currently on a glide path to disaster,” Emanuel wrote. 

On a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival after the debate, Emanuel had put it more succinctly. “We are in f—- city,” he said.

--With assistance from Michelle F. Davis and John Gittelsohn.

(Updates with more democratic defections. A previous version of this story corrected the spelling of a company name in seventh paragraph.)

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