President Obama Pokes Fun At Self, Bob Woodward, Biden, And More At Gridiron Dinner

Barack Obama in tux and black tie grinning

The president’s humor…liberals love it; conservatives are disgusted by it. Love it or hate it, however, there is no denying that it is always right on time, it always calls out people in a real way, and he pokes as much fun at himself as he does anyone else.

President Obama attended the Gridiron Club and Foundation Dinner at the Washington Renaissance Hotel last week. The club, founded in 1885, is the oldest such organization in Washington, and the most elite. Membership is by invitation only. President Obama joined other political leaders, journalists, and media executives at the annual event where politicians and the media poke fun at each other. No TV cameras are allowed, but we have the transcript that the White House provided to Politico, and have pulled out the best for you.

Before I begin, I know some of you have noticed that I’m dressed a little differently from the other gentlemen. Because of sequester, they cut my tails.

My joke writers have been placed on furlough. I know a lot of you reported that no one will feel any immediate impact because of the sequester. Well, you’re about to find out how wrong you are.

Of course, there’s one thing in Washington that didn’t get cut — the length of this dinner. Yet more proof that the sequester makes no sense.


As you know, I last attended the Gridiron dinner two years ago. Back then, I addressed a number of topics — a dysfunctional Congress, a looming budget crisis, complaints that I don’t spend enough time with the press. It’s funny, it seems like it was just yesterday.

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.

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?

Now I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively. 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? [reference to Woodward’s role in exposing the Watergate scandal]

But don’t worry. We’re all friends again in the spirit of that wonderful song. As you may have heard, Bob invited Gene over to his place. And Bob says he actually thinks that I should make it too. And I might take him up on the offer. I mean, nothing says not a threat like showing up at somebody’s house with guys with machine guns.

Now, since I don’t often speak to a room full of journalists, I thought I should address a few concerns tonight. 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 whitehouse.gov.

While we’re on this subject, I want to acknowledge Ed Henry, who is here — who is the fearless leader of the Washington press corps now. And at Ed’s request, tonight I will take one question from the press. Jay, do we have a question? Surprisingly, it’s a question from Ed Henry. Mr. President, will you be taking any questions tonight? I’m happy to answer that. No, Ed, I will not.

I also want to recognize David Corn. He’s here from Mother Jones magazine. He brought his iPhone. So Bobby Jindal, if you thought your remarks were off the record, ask Mitt Romney about that.

I have to say, I thought Bobby was incredibly funny this evening. I thought he was terrific. Amy Klobuchar was sparkling and fantastic and fabulous. [Jindal represented the GOP at the event]

I am worried about Al Franken though. How do you start off being one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live and end up being the second-funniest Senator in Minnesota? How the mighty have fallen.

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

Of course as I begin my second term, our country is still facing enormous challenges. We have a lot of work to do — [the president then leaned over and took a very long gulp from a glass of water] — that, Marco Rubio, is how you take a sip of water.

As I was saying, we face major challenges. March in particular is going to be full of tough decisions. But I want to assure you, I have my top advisers working around the clock. After all, my March Madness bracket isn’t going to fill itself out. And don’t worry — there is an entire team in the situation room as we speak, planning my next golf outing, right now at this moment. [an acknowledgement of his “frequent” golfing vacations]

But those aren’t the only issues on my mind. As you are aware — as has been noted this evening — we’ve had to make some very tough, huge budget cuts apparently with no regard to long-term consequences, which means I know how you feel in journalism.

I’ve been trying to explain this situation [sequester] to the American people, but clearly I am not perfect. After a very public mix-up last week, my communications team has provided me with an easy way to distinguish between Star Trek and Star Wars. Spock is what Maureen Dowd calls me. Darth Vader is what John Boehner calls me. [The president made a sci-fi joke and mixed up the two iconic futuristic shows, to the delight of the Twitter-verse and the sci-fi fan community. A Twitter theme immediately cropped up: #ObamaSciFiQuotes]

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

I’m also doing what I can to smooth things over with Republicans in Congress. In fact, these days John McCain and I are spending so much time together that he told me we were becoming friends. I said, John, stop. Chuck Hagel warned me how this ends up.

It took a while, but I’m glad that the Senate finally confirmed my Secretary of Defense. And I have to say, I don’t know what happened to Chuck in those hearings. I know he worked hard, he studied his brief. And I even lent him my presidential debate team to work with him. It’s confusing what happened.

But all these changes to my team are tough to handle, I’ve got to admit. After nine years, I finally said goodbye to my chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau. I watched him grow up. He’s almost like a son to me, he’s been with me so long. And I said to him when he first informed me of his decision, I said, Favs, you can’t leave. And he answered with three simple words — yes, I can. Fortunately, he did not take the prompter on his way out. That would have been a problem.

With all these new faces, it’s hard to keep track of who is in, who is out. And I know it’s difficult for you guys as reporters. But I can offer you an easy way of remembering the new team. If Ted Cruz calls somebody a communist, then you know they’re in my cabinet.

Jack Lew is getting started on his new role as Treasury Secretary. Jack is so low-key, he makes Tim Geithner look like Tom Cruise. Don’t worry, everybody, Jack signed off on that joke or a five-year old drew a slinky. I don’t know which.

Another big change has been at the State Department. Everybody has noticed that obviously. And let’s face it — Hillary is a tough act to follow. But John Kerry is doing great so far. He is doing everything he can to ensure continuity. Frankly, though, I think it’s time for him to stop showing up at work in pantsuits. It’s a disturbing image. It really is. I don’t know where he buys them. He is a tall guy.

And even though I’m just beginning my second term, I know that some folks are looking ahead to bigger things. Look, it’s no secret that my Vice President is still ambitious. But let’s face it, his age is an issue. Just the other day, I had to take Joe aside and say, Joe, you are way too young to be the pope. You can’t do it. You got to mature a little bit.

The president wasn’t the only funny guy at the event.

“I am too skinny to run,” said Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, referring to the speculation of his potential 2016 presidential bid. “At least that’s what my friend Chris Christie keeps telling me.” Jindal said he had no plans to run for president. “I’ve made that clear over and over again in Iowa, in New Hampshire and South Carolina,” he said, listing states with early nominating contests that presidential contenders frequently visit as they’re considering a run for the highest office in the land.

Jindal continued by making fun of himself and others:

He joked about his Republican response to Obama’s 2009 State of the Union “My dad called and said – ‘I told you to go to medical school’”

“I mean, come on. What chance does a skinny guy with a dark complexion and a funny name have to get elected president of the United States?”

“The president and I had the exact same campaign slogan years ago. But unfortunately UPS sued both of us and made us stop using it: ‘What can brown do for you?’”

“When I first went to Congress, I would always get asked by friends, ‘Hey, have you met my friend Congressman So and So.’. . . I don’t know, all white people look alike to me!”

He gave a shout-out to John Boehner: “we go to the same tanning salon.”

And to Elizabeth Warren: “from one Indian politician to another, I want to wish you all the best in your new job.”

And Joe Biden: “I don’t think he recognized me. . . He asked me to go get him a Slurpee.”

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Clarence Page portrayed NRA President Wayne LaPierre as he busted out a tune to the melody of “My Guy.”

Nothing you could say could tear me away from my gun (my gun)

Amendment number two says there’s nothing you can do to my gun (my gun)

I’m clinging to my gun like a girl to a feller

Nothing could be sweller than D.C. versus Heller.

Page also used music to poke fun at the Pope’s social media presence: “Give me that online religion / It’s good enough for me.”

The David Petraeus scandal was spoofed to the tune of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Modern Major General”

It really all began because I had a way of mentoring

Aphrodite knocked upon my door and then I let her in

I still just don’t believe it but I saw it with my own two eyes

To think it all began with just a simple form of exercise.

On President Obama’s bad relationship with the press, to the tune of “Pinball Wizard.”

We never got this feeling from any other pol, that mighty Obama, Doesn’t like us much at all.

The debt ceiling, to the tune of “Feelings.”

Ceilings, they’re coming back, debt ceilings

Trying hard to raise those ceilings of debt.

To the tune of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”:

Mandatory legislative budget sequestration

across the board affecting every sector of our nation

dairy goats and pleasure boats and civil aviation

mandatory legislative budget sequestration!

Journalist Susan Milligan portrayed Hillary Clinton and sang, to the tune of the Beatles hit “When I’m 64”: “Will you select me, will you elect me, when I’m 69?”

President Obama made sure to thank the press for the hard work they do.

Now, I do want to end on a serious note. I know that there are people who get frustrated with the way journalism is practiced these days. And sometimes those people are me. But the truth is our country needs you and our democracy needs you.

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. 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.

This year alone, reporters have exposed corruption here at home and around the world. They’ve risked everything to bring us stories from places like Syria and Kenya, stories that need to be told. And they’ve helped people understand the ways in which we’re all connected — how something that happens or doesn’t happen halfway around the world or here in Washington can have consequences for American families.

These are extraordinary times. The stakes are high and the tensions can sometimes be high as well. But while we’ll always have disagreements, I believe that we share the belief that a free press — a press that questions us, that holds us accountable, that sometimes gets under our skin — is absolutely an essential part of our democracy.

He ended with what is clearly his favorite joke, a reference to his sci-fi mix-up.

So I want to thank everybody for not just a wonderful evening — and, Chuck, I want to thank you for your outstanding presidency — but I also just want to thank you for the work that you do each and every day. And in the words of one of my favorite Star Trek characters — Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise — ‘May the force be with you.’

You can find the full transcript of the dinner, as provided by the White House, on the Politico website.

 


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I am an unapologetic member of the Christian Left, and have spent a lot of time working with “the least of these” and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. I’m passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics I discuss, subscribe to my public updates on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me via LinkedIn. I also have a grossly neglected blogFind me somewhere and let’s discuss stuff.