Saturday, March 09, 2013

President Obama Tosses Barbs At Joke-Filled Annual Gridiron Dinner

The zingers, the guest list, the menu...
Washington, DC-- President Obama opened with a sequester zinger on Saturday night as he spoke at the 128th Annual Gridiron Dinner at the Renaissance Hotel, warning the gown and white-tie clad audience of 650 that not only were his tails "cut," but adding that "my joke writers have been placed on furlough." It was the President's second appearance at the annual shindig hosted by the members-only Gridiron Club and Foundation, who are 65 Washington-based journalists. (Above, the President departing with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough)

"I know a lot of you reported that no one will feel any immediate impact because of the sequester," President Obama quipped.  "Well, you’re about to find out how wrong you are."   

Though the club is made up of members of the Fourth Estate, the event has always been closed to cameras and pressBut this year for the first time ever, the President's press pool was allowed in.  As always, the night included song and dance skits from costumed club members satirizing the political scene.  Sequester issues, Congress, and press relations were front and center in the President's remarks and in the routines.  Guests included Cabinet secretaries, Members of Congress, Ambassadors, and a smattering of Governors as well as Washington's media elite.

As he rollicked through his fifteen-minute remarks, the President took aim at the White House press corps' complaints about lack of access to the self-proclaimed "most transparent Administration in history."

"Now, since I don’t often speak to a room full of journalists,  I thought I should address a few concerns tonight," President Obama said, to laughter.

"Some of you have said that I’m ignoring the Washington press corps--that we're too controlling. You know what, you were right. I was wrong and I want to apologize in a video you can watch exclusively at"

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward also warranted an extended presidential riff; he recently said publicly that White House aide Gene Sperling had threatened him in an email after he wrote about the President's changing sequester narrative.

"We noticed that some folks couldn’t make it this evening. It's been noted that Bob Woodward sends his regrets, which Gene Sperling predicted," President Obama said. 

"I have to admit this whole brouhaha had me a little surprised. Who knew Gene could be so intimidating? Or let me phrase it differently--who knew anybody named Gene could be this intimidating?"

For those low on American history, Woodward is part of the journalistic duo that broke the Watergate scandal, which ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

"Now I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively," President Obama continued. "But hey, when has--can anybody tell me when an administration has ever regretted picking a fight with Bob Woodward? What’s the worst that could happen?"

The President got laughter and applause.  There was more on the media: The President also poked fun at the now-famous White House photo featuring him shooting a gun at Camp David.

"Of course, maintaining credibility in this cynical atmosphere is harder than ever--incredibly challenging. My administration recently put out a photo of me skeet shooting and even that wasn't enough for some people," President Obama said.  

"Next week, we're releasing a photo of me clinging to religion."

First Lady Michelle Obama did not join her husband at the dinner, and the President seemed to reference the absence as he joked about a New York Times pollster who had astonishing accuracy during his race for re-election.

"Now I'm sure that you’ve noticed that there's somebody very special in my life who is missing tonight, somebody who has always got my back, stands with me no matter what and gives me hope no matter how dark things seem," President Obama said. 

"So tonight, I want to publicly thank my rock, my foundation--thank you, Nate Silver."

The President's own intimates also came in for some teasing.

"Let’s face it, Hillary is a tough act to follow," President Obama said about newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry, adding "frankly, though, I think it’s time for him to stop showing up for work in pant suits.  It’s a disturbing image. I don’t know where he buys them. He’s a tall guy."

Vice President Joe Biden's plans for a presidential run in 2016 have been the subject of headlines for months, and the President cracked cute about his 70-year-old right-hand man.

"His age is an issue," President Obama said. "I had to take Joe aside and say, 'Joe, let’s face it, you are way too young to be the Pope.'"

The President took a sip of water during his remarks, lingering to let the sight gag take effect, then ripped Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), whose 2013 State of the Union rebuttal made headlines after he paused to awkwardly sip bottled water. 

"That, Marco Rubio, is how you take a sip of water," he said.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) represented their respective parties with their own zinger-filled speeches.  They were seated at the red rose-laden Head Table with the President and 19 other guests, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Senior Adviseor Valerie Jarrett, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and the director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper.

The guests list included "three governors, four senators, four House members and 10 ambassadors," according to the Gridiron Club's press release.  Pool reported some sightings: Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, and former Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson.  Current/former Obama aides included David Plouffe, Dan Pfeiffer, Jennifer Palmieri, and Stephanie Cutter.

Guests dined on an elaborate seafood menu that included shrimp and sea bass, with vegetable sides (see menu below).

The President ended his remarks on a serious note, praising reporters for maintaining a commitment to integrity.

"In an age when all it takes to attract attention is a Twitter handle and some followers, it’s easier than ever to get it wrong," President Obama said.

"But it’s more important than ever to get it right. And I am grateful for all the journalists who do one of the toughest jobs there is with integrity and insight and dedication--and a sense of purpose--that goes beyond a business model or a news cycle."

*The full transcript of the President's remarks.

It was a long evening:  The President arrived at the Renaissance Hotel shortly before 7:00 PM, and was back at the White House at 10:31 PM. 

The 128th Annual Gridiron Dinner Menu

Ginger Roasted Jumbo Shrimp over Dan Dan Noodles
Seasonal greens, green lentils, fresh bamboo shoots, scallions, sweet peppers
Tamari-Ginger-Cilantro Vinaigrette
Chili Soy Vinaigrette

Roasted Sea Bass with Vintage Port Sauce
Basil Fregola
Cranberry Bean Succotash
Brussels Sprouts
Glazed Carrots

Fresh Fruit and Berry Salad with Chocolate Lace Cookies
Kirschwasser Sauce Anglaise
Gridiron Petits Fours with Gridiron Logo

VIP coffee service
Cream, cube sugar, cinnamon sticks, chocolate shavings and whipped cream
*Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP