“I believe in the First Amendment, and not just because my good friend Jimmy Madison wrote it,” joked President Joe Biden on Saturday at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.
“I had a lot of Ron DeSantis jokes ready, but Mickey Mouse beat the Hell out of me and got there first,” POTUS laughed, with Disney brass in the audience at the Washington Hilton. If you missed it, the House of Mouse finally sued the aspiring GOP presidential candidate this week for his attacks on the company and its Walt Disney World resort in Orlando.
Fresh off announcing his reelection campaign and chaos on cable news this week, President Joe Biden had a wealth of material to pull from. And if you thought POTUS wasn’t going to mention with glee the axing of Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon from Fox News and CNN, respectively, the MAGA hold on the GOP, and DeSantis’ failing war with Disney, you clearly couldn’t read the ballroom tonight.
“I get that age is a completely reasonable issue,” the 80-year old President quipped in a relatively short performance. “It’s on everyone’s mind, by everyone I mean the New York Times,” he added. “I like Rupert Murdoch,” Biden went on to say of the 93-year old Fox News owner. “How can I dislike a guy who makes me look look Harry Styles?”
“You say I’m over the hill,” the self-mocking Biden said. “Don Lemon would say that’s a man in his prime,” the president went on to joke, in a reference to the now ex-CNN host’s possibly career-ending insult of Nikki Haley earlier this year when she announced her 2024 White House bid. The Lemon joke easily got the biggest laugh of the night from the seasoned crowd, which is full of CNN execs and hosts.
Speaking of his own White House bid, Biden added: “The job isn’t finished, I mean it is finished for Tucker Carlson.”
Getting laughs and some groans for taking a jab at longtime critic Carlson, Biden leaned in deeper to the Murdoch-owned conservative outlet. “Fox News owned by Dominion Voting Systems,” POTUS said, bringing up the $787.5 million settlement the channel made earlier this month to avoid what looked to be a painful public defamation trial. Stating that Fox News reporters were in the house because they “couldn’t say no to a free meal,” Biden added, “I called Fox honest, fair and truthful, and I could be sued for defamation.”
Although Biden was in fine form tonight, it took a spell to actually get to POTUS and the comedy.
Following a pre-recorded cold open of sorts from ex-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the WHCD presented awards introduced by WHCA president and big Holly Hunter fan Tamara Keith. There were tributes to journalists Gwen Ifill and Bill Plante, some cringeworthy White House renovation advice from the Property Brothers, and some reminders of the hard realities of the world and the state of the press today. By the time it was Biden’s turn at the podium in the Washington Hilton ballroom, the joint was looking for some fun.
Having displayed an ability to stick in the satire shiv and speak seriously to the times at last year’s Trevor Noah-headlined WHCD, Biden took the opportunity of the second in-person nerd prom gathering of his presidency to give the Beltway insiders and more what they wanted — which is a good sign going into 2024.
But not before speaking to those who were not able to be in the room tonight.
“The free press is a pillar of a free society, not the enemy,” the President told the crowd, quoting Thomas Jefferson and offering support to the attending family of WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich who was hauled off to prison by the Putin regime on flimsy allegations of spying earlier this month. Noting the presence of the family of Austin Tice, who had been detained in Syria for years, a stern Biden added: “Journalism is not a crime, Evan and Austin should be released along with every other American held illegally abroad…I am working like Hell to get them home.”
In a DC ballroom populated by guests sporting #FreeEvan pins, former Putin prisoner and WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was a guest of CBS, was called out by the president and given a standing ovation. Also called to attention by Biden was media that trafficked in “lies told for profit and power” – though POTUS never mentioned Fox by name here.
Between powerbrokers, journalists, pundits and more leading members of the political and entertainment intersection, about 2,600 people packed into the WHCD tonight. It’s a tight squeeze that seems to alarm various VIPs not used to the crush. Among the Hollywood heavyweights spotted were Disney boss Bob Iger, Paramount Global monarch Shari Redstone, Warner Bros Discovery’s chief corporate affairs officer David Leavy, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, Disney Entertainment co-chair Dana Walden and media mogul Bryan Allen.
Also in the ballroom were Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan, Rosario Dawson, Succession’s J. Smith Cameron, John Legend & Chrissy Teigen, and Lisa Vanderpump and Ariana Madix of Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules. John Leguizamo, SNL’s in-house Biden and Donald Trump James Austin Johnson, Caitlyn Jenner, SAG-AFTRA prez Fran Drescher, This Is Us‘ Justin Hartley, White House Plumbers star Lena Headey, and Ray Donovan himself Liev Schreiber, who gamely stood for photos with a parade of attendees, were there too.
In addition to the celebs and execs, for the first time since 2016, both the First Family and the Second Family were in attendance with VP Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff joining the Bidens at the head table.
With Roy Wood Jr headlining the 2023 WHCD tonight, Biden had a hard act to precede. Sharping the competition, The Daily Show correspondent allegedly fine-tuned his WHCD routine to an unsuspecting audience at a DC comedy club, we hear.
Not that the President wasn’t leaving without a bit of a fight.
“I’m going to be fine with your jokes but I’m not sure about Dark Brandon,” Biden told Wood from the podium as he dramatically put on his trademark aviators.
Ted Johnson contributed to this report.