Nothing activates Washington’s party scene like some truly excellent gossip. And the days leading up to this year’s White House correspondents’ dinner were full of it: Don Lemon, fired. Tucker Carlson, fired. The Dominion settlement. The Clarence Thomas misconduct investigation. Anticipation ran wild, with jokes all week about the night’s entertainers — President Biden and “Daily Show” comedian Roy Wood Jr. — having to throw out their scripts and start from scratch to incorporate the bounty of new material that had been dropped into their laps.
“Correspondents dinner convo about to be *lit*,” tweeted model Chrissy Teigen, a guest of NBC News with her husband, singer John Legend.
Saturday’s parties certainly delivered on at least some of that hype, with the busiest party circuit D.C. has seen since before the Trump administration and the pandemic put a damper on the annual correspondents’ weekend festivities. And there was certainly some Carlson schadenfreude in the room, as well as some grumblings about Lemon from the many CNN staffers in attendance. But the hottest topic seemed to be one that didn’t originate in Washington at all. Behold: “Scandoval,” the cheating scandal that has shaken the very foundation of the reality-show juggernaut “Vanderpump Rules.”
Members of the cast, including Lisa Vanderpump herself and the show’s betrayed girlfriend, Ariana Madix, who was allegedly cheated on by castmate Tom Sandoval, were the most desirable party guests of the weekend. Washington is a city with a C-SPAN head and a Bravo heart.
“I tweeted about how I wanted to meet them and I’m so excited they’re here!” Gisele Fetterman, the wife of Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), told us Friday night after she caught a glimpse of Madix and castmate Lala Kent at the United Talent Agency party at Fiola Mare.
Naomi Biden claimed she was in her pajamas at home, then heard the “Vanderpump” cast was out and about, and rushed over with her husband. “I’m a huge Bravo-head,” said the newlywed. Journalists and administration folks, including deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh and CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, took selfies.
They even made it into comedian Wood’s set at the dinner.
“Tucker got caught up. Got caught up like that dude from ‘Vanderpump Rules,’” the comedian joked as the cameras cut to Madix at the Daily Mail’s table, where the champagne had been upgraded from the Washington Hilton’s plebeian swill to Veuve Clicquot.
And so, there we were again, drifting through that bloated, four-day corporate-sponsored party agenda, which kicked off in earnest Thursday night. Parties were hosted by talent agencies, networks and publications, in the luxe environs of ambassadorial residences and velvet-roped nightclubs. Step-and-repeats. Espresso martinis were everywhere.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Susan Rice, Gisele Fetterman and “Uncut Gems” actress Julia Fox were among the guests spotted party-hopping all weekend long, but the scene’s undisputed winner, if you can call it that, was Semafor’s Steve Clemons. How many parties would he attend before the weekend was over? “Seventeen, if you count the Sunday brunches,” he told us, taking a swig of champagne at a CBS event. Congrats?
At Thursday’s British Embassy party thrown by Politico — a mock Oxford debate that most of the crowd politely ignored — Playbook reporter Ryan Lizza got everyone’s attention briefly with a line that drew some gasps. In the United Kingdom, he explained, they think it’s ridiculous that their prime minister was outlasted by a head of lettuce, but in the United States in 2020, “we actually elected a vegetable president of the United States.”
Lizza ended his remarks: “In conclusion: George f—ing Santos.” (The Washington Post did not see Santos at any of the weekend’s events. “Can’t wait to hear the jokes at my expense tonight,” he tweeted Saturday night.)
One staffer parted the sea of people at Elle Magazine’s Friday event, saying, “Make way for my boss,” who was Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska), clad in black ankle boots and a floral dress. This was merely a preview.
“Move to the side. Clear a path. Clear. A. Path,” commanded the coterie of Secret Service agents as they whisked first lady Jill Biden from the elevator and through the tightly packed crowd. Biden was there to support daughter Ashley Biden, one of the night’s honorees.
Julia Fox was there, too, flitting through Friday’s events in a corseted white dress with her face painted white, looking like a Victorian ghost. To be absolutely clear: We mean this as a compliment. It was weird! The correspondents’ dinner, a sea of boringly tasteful fit-and-flare dresses, needs more weird! She had discovered that she wasn’t allowed to bring her vape into the Elle event, because it was on the Secret Service’s list of prohibited items. “I actually followed the rules for once,” she said.
But Fox was excited to be in Washington for the first time since she walked in the 2017 Women’s March, and she was eager to talk to lawmakers about feminist causes. She did her own makeup, inspired by the fashion of our founding fathers. “I was like, Washington, George Washington, I know they powdered their faces, so I wanted to do something like that.” (“His real complexion was described by his contemporaries as sallow,” according to a medical historian.)
“Excuse me, who’s that actress with the white face?” another party guest asked us, politely.
Over at a CAA party at the Henri, a Scandoval star in the wild: We spotted Kent in a plunging blue jumpsuit. “I figured I can’t take the boobs out tomorrow, so I let them out tonight,” she said.
And at an intimate dinner for VIPs of the Elle Magazine party at Heist nightclub, model Winnie Harlow demurred when asked which political figures she’d most like to meet. “I’m Canadian, so I don’t know about a lot of politics, but you know, I am in D.C. to learn.”
About any issues in particular, Winnie? She smiled blankly at us and beelined for the exit.
At the celebrity petting zoo that is the Washington Hilton’s predinner party scene Saturday, Caitlyn Jenner, in a black dress with crystal-beaded sleeves, was wandering around unescorted.
“Are you lost?” she asked us. “I am.”
Disney CEO Bob Iger walked into the cramped ABC reception room that “Everything Everywhere All At Once” star Ke Huy Quan had just exited, and began to chat up Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has just posed for a photo with Fox, in her second day of white makeup and in a ball gown that appeared to be made of either long, shaggy fur or human hair. (“It’s synthetic,” she later clarified for us. Again, weird! Again, we love it!) There were the Property Brothers and Jen Psaki and Billy Eichner and Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.). There were Teigen and Legend, sneaking in at the last minute. Brittney Griner and her wife. Bradley Whitford mugging for photos with everyone.
And Anthony S. Fauci, flanked by bodyguards, walking briskly by. He skipped the event in 2022, because he suspected, correctly, that it would be a superspreader. This year, he was maskless.
Outside the ABC party was former “Bachelorette” star Rachel Lindsay, a guest of the Los Angeles Times, and whatshisname, her husband, whom she met on the show. (Bryan Abasolo.) She was swathed in baby blue and beads, and thrilled to be at her first correspondents’ dinner. She was excited to meet the president. She did not yet realize that only the people sitting on the dais get to meet the president. She’s also a big fan of journalism. “I read The Post,” she said. “I read the Times — New York Times and L.A. Times — and I watch ‘Morning Joe,’ and that’s how I start off my day,” she says. (Sign her up; she’s our kind of geek.)
Gisele Fetterman is a longtime thrift shopper, and she tried to find her Saturday dress secondhand, “but gala is harder,” she said. Instead, the taupe, ruffled ball gown “was a $14 rental on Nuuly.” Her husband, John Fetterman, walked the red carpet with her in a tux and leather sneakers.
“There’s Bill Barr!” said one guest, with the same enthusiasm other guests greeted the evening’s reality stars. “I’ve got to say hello to Bill Barr.” Other guests lined the hallways, eyeing the people who walked by: Are they famous? They seem too good-looking to be from here.
“It’s a fun time,” Kellyanne Conway told us at a reception before the dinner. “Celebrating the First Amendment. Making new friendships.”
She was here to sit at one of Fox News’s table, and, apparently, we were the first ones to ask her about Tucker Carlson. “Tucker has always been talented, brilliant, kind, generous, professional, and I wish him the best,” she said. And, she wants us to know, “I’m proud to be a Fox contributor.”
Lest you think it’s all a bunch of frothy fun, there were serious people in attendance, too. People who had no idea what Scandoval is, or why anyone cares about it.
“This is crazy,” said Dasha Navalnaya, daughter of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. “I was just doing a CNN interview and I couldn’t hear anything. I feel very weird. We’re all in dresses having dinner, and there’s a protest outside. It’s strange, but we are doing the best we can.” (A raucous climate protest in front of the Hilton, briefly joined by reinstated Tennessee lawmakers Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, attempted to bar government officials from entry. It did not succeed.)
Most attendees’ goals for the evening were to get slightly buzzed and to get a photo with one or both Property Brothers. “My goal tonight is to talk to as many representatives as I can to get my dad out of prison and get Putin out of power,” Navalnaya said — the kind of quote that makes you look around at all these dresses and espresso martinis and think: What the hell are we doing here, exactly?
On that note: On to the after-parties!
Wood got a hero’s welcome at the CBS party at the French ambassador’s residence: applause, cameras going off, everyone crowding around to give their reviews. Actress Zooey Deschanel embraced Wood and lavished praise on him.
How was Wood feeling after all of this? “Relieved!” he said. Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer” was blasting in the next room and people sang as another New Jersey native, Conway, joined the scrum to tell Wood just “how great” he was.
Meanwhile, Diana Ross was supposed to take the stage at theGrio’s party at the National Museum of African American History and Culture just after 11 p.m. It was midnight before Ross, 79 and every inch the icon, floated onto the stage in a frothy orange organza gown singing her 1980 hit “I’m Coming Out.” The voice! The hair! The sequins! Ross gave the crowd an hour-long set, cycling through her catalogue, making Gayle King, who had been waiting patiently to receive the Journalist Icon Award at the event before heading to another engagement at CBS, very, very late.
It was indeed getting late. Over at the Swiss ambassador’s residence, at Time magazine’s soiree, a DJ played house and disco beats, and the sharp aroma of a raclette station drifted over the patio. Miss District of Columbia made the scene in her sash and tiara. Fox changed from her hair skirt into leather pants, and her reapplied white makeup had survived a sprinkling of rain. “Pose” star Angelica Ross, guest of the San Francisco Chronicle, chatted with Justin Jones and twirled in her white cape, outstretched to an impressive wingspan. Not too far away, things got sloppy: We watched security guards escort out a very drunk man. (“He tried to fight somebody. He needs to drink some water,” said the muscle.)
The review of Biden’s speech, from celebrities and journalists: He was strong and better than expected. Overhearing this, one Biden White House aide standing by a hot-dog bar chimed in: “That’s such a D.C. narrative.”
Helena Andrews-Dyer, Amy Argetsinger, Jeremy Barr, Elahe Izadi, Roxanne Roberts, Jesús Rodríguez and Kara Voght contributed to this report.