WASHINGTON — This year’s primaries, the 2008 primaries, the General Services Administration scandal, even the Secret Service and Donald Trump were targets for President Barack Obama‘s scattershot humor at Saturday night’s celebrity studded White House Correspondents Dinner.
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Even the entrance to his speech was part of his schtick. The president walked off stage just before he took the podium with an alleged “hot mic,” making fun of getting caught last month on an open microphone with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
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“What am I doing here,” he asks off stage. “I’m opening for Jimmy Kimmel and telling knock-knock jokes to Kim Kardashian.”
Once on stage, the president revisited last year’s dinner.
“Last year at this time, this very weekend, we finally delivered justice to one of the world’s most notorious individuals,” Obama said, a seeming reference to the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.
Instead, a picture of Trump appeared on the room’s television monitors. Obama last year delivered a scathing roast of Donald Trump, the real estate mogul who flirted with running for the Republican nomination and claimed he has solved the “mystery” of Obama’s birth certificate.
He took a shot at the Republican congressional leadership, whom he thanked “for taking time from their exhausting schedule of not passing any laws” to attend the dinner.
Four years ago, he recalled, he was locked in a tough primary fight with Hillary Clinton, now his secretary of state. “She can’t stop drunk texting me from Cartagena,” he said, referring to their recent trip to the Summit of the Americas in Columbia.
This year, Obama is the incumbent, but the dinner was far from a campaign-free zone. The president pointed out his similarities with the presumed nominee, Mitt Romney.
“We both think of our wives as our better halves, and the American people agree to an insulting extent,” the president said.
“We both have degrees from Harvard. I have one, he has two. What a snob.”
The crack drew a thumbs up from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who dropped out of the presidential primary campaign earlier this month. Santorum had called Obama a snob for encouraging young Americans to attend college.
But Obama touched on serious themes as well, remembering The New York Times’ Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times of London who died while covering the uprising in Syria.
“Never forget that our country depends on you to help protect our freedom, our democracy and our way of life,” Obama said.
Then he returned to the lighter side: “I have to get the Secret Service home in time for their new curfew.”
Among those who attended Saturday night’s dinner were former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the cast of the hit TV show “Modern Family,” singer John Legend, actor George Clooney, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., director Steven Spielberg and actress Zooey Deschanel.
Proceeds from the dinner go toward scholarships for aspiring journalists and awards for distinction in the profession.
The association was formed in 1914 as a liaison between the press and the president. Every president since Calvin Coolidge has attended the dinner. Some of the proceeds from the dinner pay for journalism scholarships for college students.
Several journalists will also be honored at the dinner:
- Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eileen Sullivan and Chris Hawley of The Associated Press, for winning the Edgar A. Poe Award for their stories about the New York City Police Department’s widespread surveillance of Muslims after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It’s the fourth major prize for the series, which has also won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting and a George Polk Award.
- ABC’s Jake Tapper and Politico’s Glenn Thrush, Carrie Budoff Brown, Manu Raju and John Bresnahan, for winning the Merriman Smith Award for excellence in presidential coverage under pressure. Tapper won in the broadcast category for breaking the news that rating agency Standard & Poor’s was on the verge of downgrading the federal government’s triple-A credit rating because of concerns over political gridlock in Washington. In the print category, Thrush, Budoff Brown, Raju and Bresnahan of Politico won for their report on the deal between Obama and congressional Republicans to raise the U.S. debt ceiling.
- Scott Wilson, of The Washington Post, for winning the Aldo Beckman award. Wilson was recognized for his “deeply reported and nuanced stories, his evocative writing and his clear presentation of complex issues, particularly on the foreign policy front.”