President Donald Trump has taken the opportunity to poke fun at himself and trade barbs with the press at an annual bipartisan dinner.
Trump accepted an invitation to the 133rd Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner on Saturday in Washington DC, his first given that he declined to attend last year.
‘We were late tonight because Jared could not get through security,’ the president joked, referring to his son-in-law’s recent security clearance woes.
Trump said that his staff was concerned he couldn’t do self deprecating humor, adding ‘I told them not to worry. Nobody does self deprecating humor better than I do,’ according to initial pool reports from the event, which was closed to cameras.
Trump said that he’d offered Jeff Sessions a ride to the dinner, but that the attorney general had ‘recused himself’.
‘So many people have been leaving the White House,’ Trump said of recent staff turnover. ‘It’s invigorating since you want turnover. I like chaos. It really is good. Who’s going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller, or Melania?’
He also referenced the #FreeMelania hashtag. ‘She’s actually having a great time,’ he said.
On North Korea, Trump quipped that he would not rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un. However he said it was Kim who faced the risk of dealing with a madman.
Turning to the press, Trump said: ‘And it’s been a very tough year for CNN. They’ve lost a tremendous amount of credibility this year. And your best reporter, Steve Bannon. That guy leaked more than the Titanic. Boy did he leak.’
He said that Vice President Mike Pence’s comedy talent was as a straight man, adding ‘He is straight!’
‘I really am very proud to call him The Apprentice,’ Trump said of Pence. ‘But lately he’s showing a particularly keen interest in the news these days. He is asking has he been impeached yet? I don’t like that.’
He continued, ‘Mike, you can’t be impeached when there’s no crime. I thought that was going to get a much better laugh. Melania said use it, it’s good.’
Trump said of a potential 2020 electoral challenge from ‘Sleepy Joe’ Biden: ‘I would kick his a** like no other…. Man, would he be easy.’
Trump concluded his remarks by thanking the press for all it does ‘to support and sustain our democracy. I mean that.’
During Trump’s remarks, a man wearing the required white-tie attire stopped two attendees from recording with their phones.
Every president since Grover Cleveland has come to at least one Gridiron.
The event traces its history to 1885, the year Cleveland refused to attend.
‘Rest assured, Mr. President, this crowd is way bigger than Cleveland’s,’ Club President David Lightman, congressional editor for McClatchy News, told the white-tie audience at the Renaissance Washington Hotel, according to prepared remarks released ahead of the event.
Cleveland skipped the dinner because ‘he thought our columns were filled with ‘mean and cowardly lies,” Lightman said. ‘He did, however, have a soft spot for ‘Fox & Friends.”
Prior to the dinner, Trump entourage members spotted on their way inside included Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, as well as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his wife Louise Linton.
Ivanka wore a black and white dress by Carolina Herrera.
Rebuttals were scheduled from one Republican, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and one Democrat, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Trump delivered remarks to the audience of about 660 journalists, media executives, lawmakers, administration officials and military officers.
Hours before the event, Trump fired off a tweet at the national press saying: ‘Mainstream Media in U.S. is being mocked all over the world. They’ve gone CRAZY!’ He linked to a story by a conservative pundit saying Trump and his family are victims of ‘unparalleled’ press attacks.
The Gridiron Dinner’s reputation as a night of bipartisan mirth was evidenced by those who accepted invitations, including last year’s headliner, Vice President Mike Pence. Also accepting invitations were eight members of Trump’s Cabinet, six senators, four House members, and presidential advisers and relatives Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the foundation said in a statement.
By tradition the evening’s musical entertainment revolved around musical skits and takeoffs of well-known songs performed by journalists pretending to be newsmakers.
In a musical skit, a cast member playing Hillary Clinton offered her version of the song ‘You’re So Vain,’ the titled referring to her but her words aimed at the president: ‘You walked into my West Wing/My White House or so I thought.
‘Your tie strategically dropped below your belt/Your hair it was apricot/I still wake up most nights screaming/With my PJs in a knot/I still have dreams – butlers serving me coffee/My White House coffee.’
Fox News host Bret Baier had a solo to the tune of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ as Trump’s attorney, Ty Cobb. Lamenting the pace of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, he sang, ‘You can’t hurry Bob.’
Co-anchor John Dickerson of CBS’ ‘This Morning’ used the song ‘King of the Road’ to crack on Obama’s life after the presidency: ‘Speeches for sale or rent/Hire me for your next event/If you’ve got lots of dough/I’m packed and set to go, you know/Two hours of holding forth costs you/More than your Ferrari’s worth/On the speakers circuit now I am/King of the road.’
A cast member playing House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi turned to ‘I’m Against It,’ a song from the Marx Brothers film ‘Duck Soup,’ to explain her attitude toward Trump: ‘I don’t know what Trump has to say/It makes no difference anyway/Whatever it is, we’re against it/Even if our own side once professed it/We’re against it.’
A charitable organization, the Gridiron Club and Foundation provides contributions for college scholarships and journalistic organizations. Active membership is limited to 65 Washington-based journalists.
Trump has not yet said whether he will attend the famed White House Correspondents’ Dinner next month, after also skipping that event last year.
At the 2016 Al Smith Dinner, a similar event in New York right before the election, Trump’s barbed attacks on Clinton drew boos from the audience of Catholic priests.