Biden Praises Ukrainian Media, Roasts Trump
The annual White House Press Corps Gala is back, featuring the roasting of American politics, the journalists who cover it and the man at the helm: President Joe Biden.
The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, which the COVID-19 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 journalists 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 marched down the red carpet.
The comedy was back, with Daily Show host Trevor Noah headlining after BIden.
Celebrities were also reappearing. Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson walked the carpet, as did Brooke Shields and Caitlyn Jenner.
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 national and close-to-home threat: Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive this week and infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci skipped dinner as a health precaution.
Biden, 79, was maskless while greeting the winners on the podium 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 United States is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases from a highly contagious subvariant of Omicron, with confirmed infections reaching around 44,000 a day, up from 26,000 a month ago.
Despite the latest wave of 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.
About 300 people die every day in the United States with the virus, compared to more than 2,600 a day earlier this year – with about 1,600 hospitalizations a day, down from a peak of more than 21,000 a 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.
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. 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.
Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon chose not to attend every year of their presidencies, and Ronald Reagan, recovering from an assassination attempt, missed the 1981 installment – but called from Camp David.
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 proclaiming ‘Hotel, Casino, Golf Course, Presidential Suite’.
This turned out to be prophetic, as 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.