Biden and Trump’s Day of Contrasts Marks a Surreal Campaign

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
President Joe Biden speaks at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

President Biden was in the Map Room at the White House, going line by line over a speech he would soon deliver commemorating the Holocaust, when, a few hundred miles to the north, a prosecutor stood before the court and declared, “The people call Stormy Daniels.”

Biden would soon visit Capitol Hill to join some of the country’s top elected officials in memorializing an atrocity that killed 6 million Jews and to pledge repeatedly, “Never again.” He appeared at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum ceremony at the same moment his predecessor was listening attentively in a courthouse on the 13th day of his hush money trial, where an adult-film actress was called to testify about the tawdry details of their alleged encounter.

The person who introduced Biden called him a “mensch” and recalled his surprising attendance at a shiva for his late wife. The person testifying about Trump called him “arrogant and pompous,” and recounted the time he surprisingly appeared in his underwear and purportedly talked her into having sex with him in a Lake Tahoe hotel.

If voters needed any further reminder of the surreal nature of the 2024 presidential campaign, it was provided starkly Tuesday. The incumbent president started the day grappling with turmoil in the Middle East and preparing to meet the president of Romania. The challenger began his morning upset over the latest witness in his criminal trial for allegedly falsifying business records; he posted an angry message on social media about the unfairness of it all, which he later deleted.

It emerged that Daniels would be testifying and, over objections from Trump’s attorneys, would be allowed to go into some detail about their alleged unwanted sexual encounter at a California golf tournament in 2006. She took the stand in the late morning, around the time Biden was making final edits to his Holocaust comments in the Map Room, where Franklin Roosevelt reviewed the progress of World War II.

Daniels testified about meeting Trump and being invited to his hotel room, where she said she initially found him in silk or satin pajamas. Later, when she emerged from the bathroom, she recalled, she was startled to see him on the bed in his boxer shorts and a T-shirt.

“I wasn’t expecting someone to be there, especially minus a lot of clothing. That’s when I had that moment when I felt like the room spun in full motion,” she told the court. “And I felt the blood leave my hands and my feet, almost like if you stand up too fast. I just thought, ‘Oh my God. What did I misread to get here?’ Because the intention is pretty clear, somebody’s in their underwear on the bed, posing for you.”

She wasn’t drunk or on drugs, she said, but the details nonetheless remained fuzzy. “Next thing I know I was on the bed,” Daniels said, “the opposite side of the bed from where we’d been standing. I had my clothes and shoes off. We were in missionary position.”

She testified that “I was staring at the ceiling. I didn’t know how I got there. I was trying to think about anything other than how I got there.”

At almost the exact same time, Biden was speaking from a podium in Emancipation Hall in the Capitol. It was a bipartisan event, with top leaders – including House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) – making remarks before him.

The main cable networks switched from reports on Trump’s trial to carry Biden’s address live.

“We recommit to … heeding the lessons that one of the darkest chapters in human history, to revitalize and realize the responsibility of ‘Never again,’” Biden said. “This ancient hatred of Jews didn’t begin with the Holocaust; it didn’t end with the Holocaust, either – or after, even after our victory in World War II.”

The president denounced the “ferocious surge of antisemitism in America and around the world.” At a moment when many world leaders and fellow Democrats – and even Biden himself – have questioned some of Israel’s tactics in Gaza and the ensuing humanitarian crisis, he focused Tuesday on supporting Israel, comparing those who downplay the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks to people who forget or deny the Holocaust.

“Now, here we are – not 75 years later, but just 7½ months later – and people are already forgetting,” Biden said. “They’re already forgetting that Hamas unleashed this terror.”

Around the time that Daniels was testifying about allegedly being threatened not to publicly disclose her encounter with Trump, Biden joined the audience at the Capitol in holding up black-and-white photos of Holocaust victims.

The vivid contrast between the two candidates’ daily schedules provides an early snapshot of what is already one of the most unusual campaigns in memory, as a sitting president confronts a challenger who faces four criminal trials. Biden has generally been careful to avoid commenting on Trump’s trials, while Trump has suggested without evidence that the charges against him are part of a plot.

The only incident in recent history that may compare to the distasteful drama surrounding Trump, a former and possibly future president, may be the experience of President Bill Clinton, who saw the graphic details of his alleged affairs emerge in an independent counsel’s report.

On Tuesday, as the New York court broke for lunch, Biden’s motorcade returned to the White House.

By 2 p.m., Trump was back in the courtroom and Biden was in the Oval Office. Trump’s lawyers asked for a mistrial, but New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan said it was not warranted. While he conceded that some of the testimony from the adult-film star was surprising – “I think the witness was a little difficult to control” – he said the defense attorneys could have objected to more of it.

Biden, meanwhile, was meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, speaking about the strength of NATO and joking that he had supported Romania’s membership in the alliance “back when I was a senator, 180 years ago.”

Biden ignored the shouted questions from reporters, unlike when Iohannis joined Trump in the Oval Office nearly five years ago and Trump held court for more than 30 minutes. “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” Trump said at the time.

On Tuesday afternoon, it was Trump who was largely silent as he watched a legal drama unfold in a room controlled not by him but by a judge. Leaving the courthouse, he told reporters that the day had been a “disaster” for prosecutors and lamented having to sit through the proceedings.

“I should be out campaigning right now,” he said.

Later on Tuesday afternoon, Biden met with chief executives from various industries to discuss the global economy.

Biden’s campaign aides released a new ad highlighting Trump’s immigration policies. They wrote on social media about Trump’s purportedly antisemitic comments and promoted news coverage about former Nikki Haley supporters who were now voting for Biden. But they largely refrained from discussing Trump’s day in court.

At the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to say explicitly whether Biden had been following Trump’s trial. But she hinted broadly at the day’s contrasts.

“The president is really busy. Obviously, he probably catches up during the day, like many of us here,” Jean-Pierre said. “He pays attention to the news. I cannot speak to the current situation that is happening that many of you all are covering right now at this moment of the former president. Can’t speak to that.”

“But the president’s … had a busy day,” she added. “He’s been very much focused on what’s going on in the world.”