Biden roasts Trump, GOP, himself at the correspondents’ dinner

WASHINGTON (AP) — The annual White House press corps gala returned Saturday night along with Washington roasting, the reporters covering it and the man at the helm: President Joe Biden.

At the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, sidelined by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, Biden became the first president in six years to accept an invitation. Donald Trump eschewed the event while in office.

“Imagine if my predecessor came to this dinner this year,” Biden told an audience of 2,600 people, including journalists, government officials and celebrities. “That really would have been a real coup.”

The president took the opportunity to test his comedic chops and exposed the criticism he faced in his 15 months in office as he targeted his predecessor, the Republican Party and members of the press.

“I’m very excited to be here tonight with the only group of Americans with a lower approval rating than me,” Biden told Hilton’s ballroom filled with members of the media.

Biden also highlighted the slogan “Let’s Go Brandon,” which has become the right’s standard for swearing at the president.

“The Republicans seem to support one man, a man named Brandon,” Biden said, causing an uproar among the crowd. “He’s having a very good year. I’m happy for him.”

As for the GOP roster, he said, “I can’t say anything about the GOP that Kevin McCarthy hasn’t already taped.”

He also took a jab at Fox News. “I know there are a lot of questions about whether we should gather here tonight because of COVID. Well, we are here to show the country that we are getting through this pandemic. In addition, everyone has to prove that they are fully vaccinated and boosted,” Biden said. “Just get in touch with your favorite Fox News reporter. They’re all here. Vaccinated and boosted.”

In addition to speeches from Biden and comedian Trevor Noah, the hour-long event featured skits from talk show host James Corden, comedian Bill Eichner and even Biden himself.

“Thank you for having me here,” Noah told Biden. “And I was a little confused as to why me, but then I was told that you get your highest approval ratings if a biracial African man is next to you.”

While most of the speech was filled with stinging jabs, Biden did point to the important role journalism plays in American democracy, especially in the last decade.

“I mean this from the bottom of my heart that you, the free press, matter more than at any time in the last century,” he said. “You are the guardians of the truth.”

The dinner had other serious moments, paying tribute to pioneering colored journalists, aspiring student reporters and a dedication to the journalists detained, injured or killed while reporting on Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The main event for news media in Washington, the correspondents dinner, Washington journalists such as CNN’s Jake Tapper and MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid mingled with celebrities Kim Kardashian, Pete Davidson, Brooke Shields, Caitlyn Jenner, Drew Barrymore, and Martha Stewart. Among the large group of government officials and other prominent figures was State Secretary Antony Blinken.

Accompanied by the first lady, the president came to the event as he tried to strike a careful balance with the nation fatigued by the pandemic yet faced with a rise in infections. The lingering national threat has struck the president closer to home: Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive last week and Dr. Anthony Fauci skipped dinner due to health precautions.

The US experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases of a highly contagious subvariant of omicron, with confirmed infections rising to about 44,000 a day, up from 26,000 a month ago. Still, virus deaths and hospitalizations were near or at pandemic lows, with the BA.2 variant appearing to be less severe than previous strains of virus.

In the wake of the recent Gridiron Club press dinner in Washington, dozens of attendees, including members of Congress and Biden’s cabinet and journalists, tested positive for COVID-19. The White House Correspondents’ Association said it required same-day antigen testing for its diners before the Gridiron outbreak, then added a vaccination requirement.

Biden, 79, decided to forgo the meal but showed up for the program later. While he intended to be masked when not speaking, a maskless president greeted the award winners onstage and he could be seen smiling broadly during the dinner program.

The Correspondents’ Dinner began in 1921. Three years later, Calvin Coolidge became the first president to attend, and they have all attended since then, except Trump. Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon, however, chose not to attend every year of their presidencies, and Reagan, then recovering from an assassination attempt, missed the 1981 episode — but called from Camp David.

“What I think this shows is restoring the health of the relationship,” Harold Holzer, author of the book “The Presidents vs. The Press” and the director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College in New York, said before dinner. “It’s still barbed, there are still tense moments. But that’s okay.”

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

Leave a Comment