Biden grills Trump and himself at correspondents’ dinner

Farnoush Amiri and Will Weissert, Associated Press

Posted on Saturday, April 30, 2022 at 10:54 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) – The annual White House press corps gala returned Saturday night along with the roast from Washington, the journalists who cover it and the man at the helm: President Joe Biden.

The White House Correspondents Association dinner, sidelined by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, returned with Biden the first president in six years to accept an invitation. Donald Trump avoided the event while he was 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 hit.”

The president used the opportunity to downplay the criticism he has faced in his 18 months in office and took aim at his predecessor, the GOP and members of the press.

“I am very excited to be here tonight with the only group of Americans with a lower approval rating than me,” Biden said.

The night was filled with taped comedy skits that included late-night TV hosts, comedians and even Biden himself.

The dinner also had its serious moments, with tributes to pioneering journalists of color, aspiring journalism students, and a tribute to the journalist detained, injured or killed while covering the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier in the evening, in a return to some normalcy, journalists, government officials and celebrities walked the red carpet even as the threat of COVID-19 loomed over the hotel’s sprawling ballroom.

Comedy returned with “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah headlining after BIden. Celebrities were also making a comeback: Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson walked the carpet as did Brooke Shields and Caitlyn Jenner. The event attracted a large number of government officials and other prominent figures.

Biden faced the thousands of attendees as he tries to strike a careful balance at a pivotal moment for the country. His administration seeks to turn the page on the pandemic even as the virus remains a threat nationally and close to home. Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive this week and Dr. Anthony Fauci skipped dinner out of health precautions.

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.

That raised questions about whether the 79-year-old Biden should have attended Saturday’s dinner. The president planned to skip the meal, but he showed up later for the show and wore a mask when he didn’t speak. Instead, he wore no mask as he greeted award winners on the dais and smiled broadly throughout the evening.

The White House has highlighted the abundance of the antiviral pill Paxlovid, which has been shown to reduce severe effects of the virus by 90% among those most at risk.

Still, press secretary Jen Psaki has said of Biden: “We want to make it very clear that it’s possible he could test positive for COVID, just like any American.”

The White House Correspondents Association said it required same-day antigen testing for dinner attendees even before the Gridiron outbreak. He then added a vaccination requirement.

The United States is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases of a highly contagious sub-variant of omicron, with confirmed infections rising to 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, and the BA.2 variant has proven to be less severe than previous virus strains. Just over 300 people die in the US each day from the virus, down from more than 2,600 daily earlier this year, with about 1,600 hospitalizations per day, down from a peak of more than 21,000. daily in January.

Psaki said Biden’s decision to attend “does stand in stark contrast to his predecessor, who not only questioned the legitimacy of the press almost daily, but never even attended the dinner.” Trump, who at times called the media “the enemy of the people,” had gleefully boycotted the event as president.

Adding to the looming threat of the virus, Biden planned to take the mic as a massive and deadly invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces continued to unfold.

Biden mentioned the dinner during a speech last week about Russia’s war against Ukraine, saying, “I’ve always had respect for the press, but I can’t tell you how much respect I have seeing them in these areas where they are. under fire.”

“Imagine if we weren’t getting that information,” the president added. “It would be a different world.”

The Correspondents’ Dinner debuted in 1921. Three years later, Calvin Coolidge became the first president to attend and everyone has 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 this shows is the restoration of the health of the relationship,” said Harold Holzer, author of the book “The Presidents vs. The Press” and director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College in New York. . “It’s still poignant, there are still tense moments. But that’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 is reminiscent of the administration of President Barack Obama, when George Clooney, Charlize Theron and Viola Davis attended.

As vice president in 2014, Biden appeared in a comedy video with HBO’s “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus that drew big 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, drawing on material from a variety of people both inside and outside. of the government.

Psaki has already acknowledged trying to lower expectations, saying the speech was “not fun at all. It’s a joke.” However, presidential attempts at humor can be tricky.

At the 2011 dinner, Obama criticized an unfunny Trump, in his presence, for Trump’s fictitious claims about the then-president’s birth certificate. Obama concluded by reflecting on Trump taking his job one day, saying, “It would certainly bring some change to the White House” as the banquet hall screens flashed a parody image of the grand 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue facade outfitted with a Trump logo, gilded columns, a digital clock and a sign proclaiming “Hotel, Casino, Golf Course, Presidential Suite.”

That turned out to be prophetic, as Trump, of course, succeeded Obama, though the reforms he ultimately brought to the presidency fell short of putting his name in the White House.

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

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