Biden campaign pays former Clinton and Obama speech coach the day after rough debate performance

Key Points
  • Joe Biden's campaign pays a prominent, longtime Democratic speech coach the day after the former vice president's widely criticized performance in the first debate of the 2020 primary.
  • The Biden team's second-quarter Federal Election Commission filing shows that the campaign wrote a check of just over $5,300 on June 28 to Sheehan Associates for "strategic consulting" services.
  • The communications firm is run by Michael Sheehan, who helped Bill Clinton prepare for debates and speeches during his presidential campaigns.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on Thursday, June 27, 2019, at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.
Al Diaz | Miami Herald | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

Joe Biden's campaign paid a prominent, longtime Democratic speech coach the day after the former vice president's widely criticized performance in the first debate of the 2020 primary.

The Biden team's second-quarter Federal Election Commission filing shows that the campaign wrote a check of just over $5,300 on June 28 to Sheehan Associates for "strategic consulting" services. The firm is run by Michael Sheehan, who helped Bill Clinton prepare for debates and speeches during his presidential campaigns.

"Michael has coached more Presidents, Vice Presidents, First Ladies, Cabinet Secretaries, Governors, Mayors and Members of Congress than anyone else in the country," the Sheehan Associates website boasts. The firm's site also touts a slew of corporate clients including AT&T, Eli Lilly, American Express and J.P. Morgan Chase.

It was not clear whether Sheehan had advised Biden before the debate or he was hired immediately afterward. A representative for the Biden campaign and Sheehan declined to comment.

During the debate, Biden tangled with Sen. Kamala Harris of California when she slammed him for touting his work with segregationists during his early years as a U.S. senator. She also said he opposed busing to desegregate schools, but Biden argued he only opposed busing ordered by the Department of Education.

His comments sparked outrage from some members of his own party, and Harris received a bump in the polls. Her leading bundlers also saw interest and enthusiasm from donors that previously had expressed no interest in meeting her.

The day after the debate, which is also the day Biden's campaign cut a check to Sheehan Associates, Biden appeared at a lunch hosted by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. There, the former vice president defended his record on civil rights and sought to clarify his positions.

Sheehan and Biden are pictured together on the Sheehan Associates website and have a relationship that goes back to when the former Delaware senator ran for president in the 2008 campaign. Filings from Biden's last run for the White House show that his campaign spent $6,500 for "consultant-communications" from the same company eight days before a primary debate in South Carolina in April 2007. Biden dropped out of that race almost a year later and became Barack Obama's running mate.

Obama got tips from Sheehan, too, in 2004, before he gave his starmaking keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

The payment to Sheehan was part of the Biden campaign's $11 million spending spree in the second quarter. The former vice president raised just over $22 million during the period and has $10 million on hand.

In a Tuesday interview on MSNBC, Biden gave a preview of how he would take on Trump in a debate if the president makes fun of his age or questions his mental stability.

"I'd say, 'C'mon, Donald, c'mon, man. How many pushups do you want to do here, pal?'" Biden told "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski.

It remains unclear whether Sheehan will continue to be on the Biden campaign's payroll. The next Democratic debates are scheduled to take place in two weeks in Detroit.

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