‘Veep’ And ‘The West Wing’ Reunions Raise Almost $700,000 For Wisconsin Democrats As Cast Members Warn That Democracy Is On The Line In Midterms
Cast members from Veep and The West Wing reunited for a virtual fundraiser for the Wisconsin Democratic Party on Sunday, an event that was a mix of amusing memories, their own brushes with fame and warnings about what was at stake in the upcoming midterms.
During the event, actors re-enacted an abortion-themed scenes from each of their shows. They also played a quiz in which contestants had to guess if lines came from Veep, The West Wing or the real world, with an eye toward highlight some of the statements made by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). Democrats see a pickup opportunity with their candidate, Mandela Barnes.
By the end of the two-hour event, about $686,000 had been raised.
“I’m doing this because I am a concerned citizen. I am a patriot. And I believe that democracy is, without hyperbole, is on the line right now, and I know that Wisconsin is a pivotal state, and so much hangs in the balance,” said Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who played vice president then president Selina Meyer on Veep.
“There is an anxiety, a great fear in the country, from coast to coast, in all levels of our society about what we are faced with and how much responsibility each one of us is meant to carry,” said Martin Sheen, who played President Jed Barlett on The West Wing. “Unfortunately, this lie that has permeated all levels of our society, and it has caused a great many of the, I should say, public servants in the Republican party, to hide any sense of their humanity or sense of purpose or even real patriotism. They seem to have [been] frozen in spineless fear about the consequences of speaking the truth, of exposing the lie.”
Also participating were West Wing cast members Bradley Whitford, who served as co-host along with Louis-Dreyfus; Melissa Fitzgerald, Mary McCormack and Richard Schiff. Also appearing from Veep were Sam Richardson, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons and Matt Walsh.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party popularized Zoom reunions in the 2020 presidential race, with events featuring the Veep cast as well as Parks and Rec and The Princess Bride. The events proved to be a creative way to draw small dollar donors, standing out amid the blizzard of candidate and party emails.
Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, called the state the “most closely divided” in the country, and noted polls showing a neck-and-neck governors race between incumbent Democrat Tony Evers and Republican Tim Michels, while there also is a tight race between Johnson and Barnes. Wikler also made the case that, because the swing state could determine the winner of the 2024 presidential race, the midterms were hugely consequential. Michels was endorsed by Trump and could sign into law additional voting restrictions, triggered by unfounded claims that there was massive fraud in the last presidential election.
As much as participants in the event sounded the alarm about the upcoming election, there were moments of humor, particularly when they recalled meeting real-life politicos on their visits to D.C.
Schiff said that one year, at a White House Correspondents’ Weekend cocktail party, an older man spotted him from about 30 yards away and approached him. “I find your show eerie,” the man said. It was Alexander Haig.
Louis-Dreyfus said that on a visit to the White House, she met Elena Kagan, who told her what a fan of the show she was. The Supreme Court justice also shared that when she had weekly lunches with Antonin Scalia, they would “break down” an episode of Veep together. “I thought, we are doing the right thing, because if both sides of the aisle are getting a kick out of it, I am down for that,” Louis-Dreyfus said.
Early on in the run of Veep, Louis-Dreyfus remembered getting a call from Joe Biden, when he was vice president and before the cast knew that he was aware of the show. “He called to congratulate me that I had made it onto the cover of Amtrak magazine,” she said. Biden later appeared in a Veep-themed Correspondents’ Dinner video and “he was unbelievably gracious and wonderful,” albeit they had to go through a lot of hoops to get access.
Sheen recalled that in 1965, he and his wife Janet were in the same Lamaze class as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband Martin. “She reminded me of that many years later when we met casually. She said, ‘Please say hello to Janet.’ I said, ‘Janet, you mean my wife?’ She said, ‘Oh yes, please. I remember her and cherish the time we spent together.’ I said, ‘She didn’t go to law school. How do you know her?’ She said, ‘Martin, don’t you remember? We were in Mrs. Bings’ natural childbirth studying Lamaze method.’ I said, ‘Oh my God. You were that lady that we all thought the baby was bigger than you.”
Sheen added, “I adored her. She loved the show, and she loved the energy. And she particularly loved the episode we did called The Supremes, where we established the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court.”
The cast members also shared the transitions their shows went through after their fourth seasons, with Aaron Sorkin departing as show runner of The West Wing and Armando Iannucci exiting Veep.
“I was like David Koresh leaving the Branch Davidians,” joked Whitford. “But he left the Kool Aid,” quipped Schiff, drawing laughs from cast members of both shows.
Schiff added, “You could always go to Aaron and talk to him, and talk to him, and effect changes in your script…He was not this rigid thing. He would react to the creativity of the cast and to the personality of the cast in a really wonderful way. After he left, there was a lot more opportunity to talk to the writers. I don’t think they were quite as rigid because it wasn’t quite as musical. I mean, the language changed a little. It was still intelligent, smart and witty and quick. But it didn’t quite have the poetry that Aaron had.”
Whitford said that Sorkin “truly loved actors …and he really picked up on what actors were doing. If you were uncomfortable about something you could certainly talk about it.”
Louis-Dreyfus said that the switchover to David Mandel as showrunner on Veep was “actually a very happy transition. It was a good thing in both directions.”
Both fictitious presidents were put on the spot when asked how their characters would react to the January 6th siege on the Capitol.
Sheen said that he thought Bartlet, upon encountering Mitch McConnell, “would have punched him in the nose, of course.” McConnell initially condemned Donald Trump, only to suggest soon after that that he would support him if he were the nominee in 2024.
Selina Meyer, Louis-Dreyfus said, would have reacted to January 6th by turning to Gary (Tony Hale) and telling him, “Find me a private plane. Get me the f— out of here. With no regard for her constituents, for the citizens of the United States.”