Biden roasts Trump and himself at correspondents’ dinner

WASHINGTON: The annual White House Press Corps Gala returned Saturday night with the Washington roast, the reporters who cover it and the man at the helm: President Joe Biden.
The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, which the pandemic sidelined in 2020 and 2021, returned with Biden as the first president in six years to accept an invitation. Donald Trump avoided the event during his tenure.
“Just imagine if my predecessor came to that dinner this year,” Biden told an audience of 2,600 people, including journalists, government officials and celebrities. “Now that really would have been a real coup.”
The president took the opportunity to shed light on the criticism he faced during his 18 months in office and take aim at his predecessor, the Republican Party and members of the press.
“I’m so thrilled to be here tonight with the only group of Americans with a lower approval rating than mine,” Biden said.
The night was filled with taped comedy sketches featuring late-night TV hosts, comedians and even Biden himself.
The dinner also had some serious moments, with tributes to pioneer journalists of color, aspiring student journalists and a tribute to the journalist detained, injured or killed while covering the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier in the night, in a return to some normality, journalists, government officials and celebrities walked the red carpet even as the threat of Covid-19 loomed over the hotel’s huge ballroom .
The comedy was back with “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah as the post-Biden headliner. Celebrities also reappeared: Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson walked the carpet as did Brooke Shields and Caitlyn Jenner. The event attracted a wide range of government officials and other eminent personalities.
Biden faced the thousands in attendance as he tries to strike a careful balance at a pivotal time for the country. His administration is seeking to turn the page on the pandemic even as the virus remains a nationwide threat close to home. Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive this week and Dr. Anthony Fauci skipped dinner as a health precaution.
After 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.
It raised questions about whether Biden, 79, should have attended Saturday’s dinner. The president planned to skip the meal but show up later for the program and wear a mask when he wasn’t speaking. Instead, he went maskless while greeting the winners on the dais and smiled broadly throughout the evening.
The White House highlighted the abundance of the antiviral pill Paxlovid, which has been shown to reduce the serious consequences of the virus by 90% in those most at risk.
Still, press secretary Jen Psaki said of Biden: “We want to be very clear that it’s possible he could test positive for Covid, like any American.”
The White House Correspondents Association said it was requiring same-day antigen testing for its dinner attendees even before the Gridiron outbreak. He then added a vaccination requirement.
The United States is seeing a spike in Covid-19 cases from a highly contagious omicron subvariant, with confirmed infections reaching around 44,000 a day, up from 26,000 a month ago.
Despite the latest wave of Covid-19 cases, virus deaths and hospitalizations are near or at pandemic lows, with the BA.2 variant proving to be less severe than earlier virus strains. Just over 300 people die each day in the United States from the virus, up from more than 2,600 per day earlier this year – with around 1,600 hospitalizations per day, compared to a peak of more than 21,000 per day in January .
PSAki said Biden’s decision to attend “stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, who not only questioned the legitimacy of the press almost daily, but also never attended dinner.” Trump, who has sometimes called the media “enemies of the people,” had happily boycotted the event as president.
In addition to the looming threat of the virus, Biden planned to take the mic as a massive and deadly invasion of Ukraine continued to unfold at the hands of Russian forces.
Biden mentioned the dinner during a speech last week about Russia’s war on Ukraine, saying, “I’ve always had respect for the press, but I can’t tell you how much I I have respect for watching them in those areas where they are under fire.”
“Imagine if we didn’t get that information,” the president added. “It would be a different world.”
The Correspondents’ Dinner began in 1921. Three years later, Calvin Coolidge became the first president to attend and everyone has done so since, except Trump. However, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon chose not to attend every year of their presidencies, and Ronald Reagan, then recovering from an assassination attempt, missed the 1981 installment – but called from Camp David.
“What I think it shows is the restoration of the health of the relationship,” said Harold Holzer, author of “The Presidents vs. The Press” book and director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College in New York. . “It’s still barbed, there are still tense moments. But it’s okay.”
After comedian Michelle Wolf’s sharp satire sparked controversy in 2018, the following year’s event featured historian Ron Chernow. The return of celebrities this time recalls the administration of President Barack Obama, when George Clooney, Charlize Theron and Viola Davis were present.
As vice president in 2014, Biden appeared in a humorous video with HBO’s “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which got plenty of laughs at the correspondents’ dinner. White House speechwriting director Vinay Reddy and longtime Biden adviser Mike Donilon worked on Biden’s remarks for this year, the White House said, using information from various people inside and outside government.
PSAki has previously acknowledged trying to lower expectations, saying the speech was “not funny at all. Just kidding.” Presidential attempts at humor can be tricky, though.
At the 2011 dinner, Obama skewered an unamused Trump — in his presence — over Trump’s fictitious claims about the then president’s birth certificate. Obama concluded by thinking Trump would take his job one day, saying, “He would definitely make changes in the White House” as the banquet hall screens projected a parody image of the grand facade of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue equipped with a Trump logo, gold columns, a digital clock, and a sign that reads “Hotel, Casino, Golf Course, Presidential Suite.”
This turned out to be prophetic, since Trump of course took over from Obama – although the reshuffles he eventually made to the presidency stopped short of affixing his name to the White House.

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