By Jordan Fabian - 03/17/16 01:18 PM EDT
President Obama last week urged Democratic donors at a closed-door gathering to rally around Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDem rep: Benghazi report aims to sink Clinton’s poll numbers Benghazi panel offers new details on attack in 800-page report GOP: WH pushed Benghazi video explanation despite eyewitnesses MORE, telling them Bernie SandersBernie SandersPolls show tight Clinton-Trump race in 2016 battlegrounds Polls show tight Clinton-Trump race in 2016 battlegrounds Sanders's Nevada director floated two-sided coins for tiebreaks: report MORE’s presidential campaign is nearing its endpoint, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Obama acknowledged to the donors that Clinton suffers from a perceived lack of authenticity, but called it an overrated political virtue, the report said.
Obama said that his predecessor, George W. Bush, was thought to be an authentic politician, but reminded donors he successfully ran against Bush's record in his first presidential campaign.
They represent a rare moment of candor from Obama, who has tried not to influence the outcome of the Democratic presidential primary.
But Clinton, who served as Obama’s secretary of State, has long been perceived to be his preferred candidate.
Donors said the president urged Democrats to come together around Clinton to prevent an opening for Republican front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDem rep: Benghazi report aims to sink Clinton’s poll numbers Benghazi panel offers new details on attack in 800-page report Poll: Clinton more trusted on terrorism than Trump MORE in the general election.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday acknowledged the president's comments.
“President Obama made a case that would be familiar to all of you, which is that as Democrats move through this competitive primary process, we need to be mindful of the fact that our success in November in electing a Democratic president is dependent on the commitment and ability of the Democratic Party to come together behind our nominee,” he told reporters.
Trump solidified his standing as the GOP's standard-bearer by winning last Tuesday’s Florida primary, handily defeating his fellow candidates — including Marco RubioMarco RubioThe Trail 2016: Warren takes VP batting practice Abortion ruling roils race for the White House, Senate US, Mexico have mutual ambassadors for first time in over a year MORE, who promptly dropped out of the race after losing his home state.
Obama has not always done a good job of hiding his opinions, suggesting in a January podcast interview that he believes Clinton best understands what it takes to occupy the Oval Office.
The president’s comments to donors came days after Sanders pulled off an upset victory over Clinton in Michigan but before she defeated him Tuesday in four primary states, expanding her delegate lead.
Mindful about keeping the party united going into November, Obama was careful not to officially endorse a candidate in front of the donors.
Earnest said he “did not indicate or specify a preference in the race.”
The president voted absentee in Tuesday’s Illinois Democratic presidential primary, but the White House has not publicly revealed which candidate he cast a ballot for.
While Obama recognized both candidates have strengths, he once again praised Clinton as tough and qualified and said she would carry on the legacy of his administration.
This story was updated at 2:38 p.m.