Former vice president and 2020 presidential contender Joe Biden told a roomful of well-heeled donors on Tuesday night that he would not “demonize” the rich if he’s elected president. “I need you very badly,” he told the group.
Addressing the 100 or so guests at a fundraiser at the swanky Carlyle Hotel in New York City, Biden said he’d got into hot soup with “some of the people on my team, on the Democratic side” for his earlier comments about rich people being “just as patriotic as poor people.”
That’s “not a joke,” he said. “I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money.”
Appearing to suggest that his tax plan would not include excessive taxes on the rich, Biden said “no one’s standard of living change” if he’s elected.
Members of the Biden family
Members of the Biden family
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (C) takes the oath of office from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as his wife Jill Biden holds the family bible and family members look on at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington January 20, 2013. Shown are R. Hunter Biden (front row), Maisy Biden (black cardigan), Noami Biden (red shirt), Finnegan Biden (maroon and black dress), Natalie Biden (front row, purple dress), Kathleen Biden, Hunter Biden, Ashley Biden, Howard Krein, Beau Biden and Hallie Biden.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden joined by his family members walk along the national road named after his late son Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, in the village of Sojevo, Kosovo, August 17, 2016. President Joe Biden is the guest of honor during the street dedication ceremony naming the national road Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) talks with his son, U.S. Army Capt Beau Biden, at Camp Victory on the outskirts of Baghdad July 4, 2009. Biden met U.S. troops preparing to mark their Independence Day holiday on Saturday, on the third day of a visit he has used to urge Iraqi politicians to do more to reconcile rival factions.
U.S. President Barack Obama (L-R), Vice President Joe Biden and Biden's son Hunter Biden attend an NCAA basketball game between Georgetown University and Duke University in Washington, January 30, 2010.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) is joined by his wife Jill Biden (4th L) and their family for remarks at a volunteer project to assemble care kits for U.S. military service members and veterans at a Unite America in Service event at the National Guard Armory in Washington, January 19, 2013. Biden and his family volunteered for the event during the National Day of Service as part of the 57th Presidential Inauguration.
Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden (D-DE) watches his grandson Hunter wave at the crowd after Biden spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado August 27, 2008.
(REUTERS/ Rick Wilking)
Dr. Jill Biden (C), wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, waves onstage with Biden family members at the Kids Inaugural concert for children and military families, one of the events ahead of the second-term inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington January 19, 2013.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden walks with his sons Beau (L) and Hunter (2nd R) and his wife Jill down Pennsylvania Avenue during the inaugural parade in Washington January 20, 2009.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) holds hands with his wife Jill along with relatives as they walk on a road named after their late son Joseph 'Beau' Bide in the village of Sojevo on August 17, 2016. Biden said that the United States would remain a 'champion' of an independent Kosovo, but he firmly warned its leaders against the 'cancer' of corruption. On his first visit to Kosovo since 2009 -- the year after it unilaterally declared independence from Serbia -- Biden held talks with President Hashim Thaci and other leaders before a dedication ceremony naming a road after his late son.
(ARMEND NIMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
US vice president Joe Biden (C) walks with his son in law Howard Krien (L) during a visit to a local food court in Singapore on July 26, 2013. Biden is on a two-day official visit to Singapore after India where officials say he will tackle tensions over the disputed South China Sea 'head on.'
(MOHD FYROL/AFP/Getty Images)
US Vice President Joe Biden (3rd L) and his three grandchildren look at a koala during a visit to Taronga Zoo in Sydney on July 19, 2016. US and Australian troops plan to step up training so they are 'fully prepared' to answer challenges in the Pacific, Biden said amid rising tensions over Beijing's claims in the South China Sea.
(JESSICA HROMAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Vice President of the United States Joe Biden (C) and family attend the 2016 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.
(Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, addresses the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina September 6, 2012.
Chief Executive Officer of the AFL Gillon McLachlan, President of the MCC Stephen Smith and Chairman of the AFL Mike Fitzpatrick pose for a photograph with US Vice President Joe Biden and his granddaughters during the 2016 AFL Round 17 match between the Carlton Blues and the West Coast Eagles at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 17, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.
(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 13: Dr. Jill Biden and her grand-daughter Natalie Biden try samples of food as they meet with students and staff during a visit to the Lycee Guillaume Tirel on June 13, 2016 in Paris, France. The college serves as a school for cooking and hotel services.
(Photo by Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty Images)
U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden, carrying his grandson Hunter Biden, departs following a Sunday morning service at Holy Trinity Church, a Roman Catholic congregation in Washington, January 18, 2009.
Second lady Dr. Jill Biden and her grand-daughter Natalie attend mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral on June 12, 2016 in Paris, France.
(Photo by Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty Images)
Vice-President Joe Biden and sons Hunter Biden (L) and Beau Biden walk in the Inaugural Parade January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC. Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, becoming the first African-American to be elected President of the US.
(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, wife and Second Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden and family members attend University Of Pennsylvania Commencement keynote address delivered by Lin Manuel Miranda during University of Pennsylvania 260th Commencement Ceremony at Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania on May 16, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
(Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/WireImage)
US Vice President Joe Biden (C) leaves the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with his family on March 9, 2016 during his visit in Jerusalem's Old City.
(RONEN ZVULUN/AFP/Getty Images)
Vice President of the United States Joe Biden (C), his wife Dr. Jill Biden (C-L), and his granddaughter Naomi Biden (C-R) visit Arasta Bazaar, at Sultan Ahmed in Istanbul, Turkey on January 22, 2016.
(Photo by Salih Zeki Fazlioglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
US Vice President Joe Biden (2nd L) stands with his daughter Ashley Biden (L), his wife Jill Biden (2nd R) and son-in-law Howard Krien (R) after being being presented with a new orchid hybrid plant (pictured C) named 'Joe and Jill Biden' during a visit to the National Orchid Garden in Singapore on July 26, 2013. Biden is on a two-day official visit to Singapore after India where officials say he will tackle tensions over the disputed South China Sea 'head on.'
(MOHD FYROL/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill wave as they listen to Biden's son, Beau Biden, address the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 6, 2012.
(REUTERS/Philip Scott Andrews)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (C) buys an ice-cream at a shop as he tours a Hutong alley with his granddaughter Finnegan Biden (R) and son Hunter Biden in Beijing December 5, 2013.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden as he is greeted by his daughter Ashley before accepting a Father of the Year award in New York, U.S., June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Joe Biden (L) is sworn in as the Vice President of the U.S by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (not in photo) as the Biden children Beau (R), Hunter (C), and Ashley watch in Washington, January 20, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (2nd L) and his wife Jill Biden (2nd R), pose for a photo with their daughter Ashley and son-in-law Dr. Howard Krein in front of an orchid named "Dendrobium Joe and Jill Biden" in their honour, at the National Orchid Garden in Singapore July 26, 2013. REUTERS/Tim Chong (SINGAPORE - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 7: Ashley Biden and Joe Biden attend Gilt x Livelihood Launch Event at 6 St. John's Lane on February 7, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Aurora Rose/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
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“The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change,” he said.
Biden added that though income inequality is a considerable problem that plagues the United States, the rich are not the enemy that’s to blame for the wealth gap. He said:
When we have income inequality as large as we have in the United States today, it brews and ferments political discord and basic revolution. Not a joke. Not a joke ... It allows demagogues to step in and say the reason where we are is because of the ‘other’ ... You’re not the other. I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you. I have a bad reputation, I always say what I mean. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.
Bloomberg’s Jennifer Epstein described the scene at the Tuesday fundraiser: affluent donors, including former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman, tucked into hors d’oeuvres like lobster, chicken satay and crudites. The group was “well-dressed,” Epstein said, most of them in suits.
Though Biden has pushed a generally populist economic agenda focused on decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights, the former vice president has taken a moderate stance when it comes to taxation. Unlike some of his 2020 Democratic rivals like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Biden has not singled out the mega-rich as tax targets. He’s instead proposed expanding tax credits for the poor and middle class, and making the tax code less friendly to rich investors.
“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said at an event in March.