President Obama used Washington’s elite Gridiron dinner to bring some humor to some pretty tense topics — the sequester, the press and even his own economic team.
The dinner, held Saturday night at the Renaissance Washington hotel, is one of the last white-tie affairs in Washington, but Mr. Obama said he was forced not to comply with the dress code this year.
“Because of the sequester, they cut my tails,” he said. “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.”
He went on to poke fun at the story about his top economic adviser, Gene Sperling, threatening Bob Woodward over an article he was writing about the latest round of budget cuts.
“This whole brouhaha has had me a little surprised,” he said. “Who knew Gene could be so intimidating? Or let me phrase it differently: Who knew anybody named Gene could be this intimidating?
“I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively,” he said. “But, hey, can anybody tell me when an administration has ever regretted picking a fight with Bob Woodward? What’s the worst that could happen?”
He got in a little dig at Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, for his notorious sip of water during his Republican response to the State of the Union address. “Our country is still facing enormous challenges” he said, before taking long drink from the glass in front of him. “That, Marco Rubio, is how you take a sip of water.”
He also directly addressed recent criticism that he has tried to stage-manage the press and has failed to regularly answer reporters’ questions.
“Some of you have said that I’m ignoring the Washington press corps, that we’re too controlling,” he said. “You know what, you’re right. I was wrong. I want to apologize — in a video you can watch exclusively at whitehouse.gov.”
He had a few fine words for friendly members of the media, singling out a New York Times polling analyst who successfully predicted his re-election margin.
“Now I’m sure that you’ve noticed there’s somebody very special in my life who’s missing tonight, who’s always got my back, stands with me no matter what and gives me hope no matter how dark things seem,” he said. “So tonight I want to publicly thank my rock, my foundation. Thank you, Nate Silver.”
Mr. Obama couldn’t make a string of jokes without including at least one about Vice President Joseph R. Biden, and this time it wasn’t about his many gaffes.
“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.’”
Ending on a serious note, Mr. Obama thanked the press corps for their work and commitment.
“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,” he said. “And I’m 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.”