WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama took a few humorous shots at the 2016 presidential field and at the news media — and a few at his own image — in his annual comic turn at Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
“I am determined to make the most of every moment I have left” of his second term, the president quipped in a line that drew laughter and a few startled reactions. “My advisers asked, ‘Mr. President, do you have a bucket list. And I said, ‘Well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list.’ “
The annual celebrity-politico meet-up at the Washington Hilton drew the powerful, the famous and the just plain well-connected to a corner of town Saturday night for an evening of gags and glamour. The black-tie Hollywood-on-the-Potomac party featured fewer big-name stars this year, but more than enough to create the one-of-a-kind mash-up of actors, senators, Supreme Court justices, business types — and, of course, the president and first lady.
In his relatively brief comic turn, Obama likened Hillary Clinton’s nascent presidential campaign to Americans’ lingering uncertainty about the economy. “I had a friend making millions of dollars a year,” he said. “Now she’s living in a van in Iowa.”
He tweaked himself and Republicans for inviting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress while the U.S. is negotiating a nuclear treaty with Iran: “I’m so old John Boehner has invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral.”
Turning to the media — which usually takes its lumps at the annual dinner — Obama noted that Cecily Strong, the evening’s entertainer, impersonates a CNN anchor on “Saturday Night Live.”
“Which is surprising,” he said, “because the only people impersonating journalists on CNN are the journalists on CNN.”
He added that this winter’s polar vortex produced “so many record lows that they renamed it MSNBC” — the cable network that has struggled lately in the ratings.
Turning serious, Obama paid tribute to journalists Stephen Sotloff and James Foley, who were kidnapped and executive by Islamic State militants, and to Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who was “imprisoned for doing nothing more than writing about the hopes and fears of the Iranian people. I have told him that we will not rest until we bring him home safe and sound to his family.”
In her remarks, Strong took aim at some of the same targets as Obama — the media, the candidates and Congress. Of the latter, she said, “It feels so weird being up here. I’m only a comedian, so I won’t tell you [politicians] how to do your job. That would be like you guys telling me what to do with my body.”
As for the Secret Service: “I don’t want to be too hard on those guys. They’re the only law enforcement agency that will get in trouble if a black man gets shot.”
The Washington Hilton lobby began filling with the beautiful and powerful — as well as a few actual White House correspondents — hours before the dinner, creating a logjam that pushed the event a half-hour off schedule before the 2,600 guests even sat down for dinner.
The dinner, which began in 1921 as a modest affair for 50 correspondents (long before the commander-in-chief began attending) has metastasized into a weekend-long extravaganza, with media-sponsored parties before, after and even during the dinner.
The dinner and its preliminaries were telecast live by Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, in addition to C-SPAN. The cable news networks largely put aside breaking news events in Nepal (site of a devastating earthquake) and Baltimore (site of an unruly demonstration against the local police force) to provide live coverage of red-carpet arrivals and the dinner itself.
Crowds gathered outside the hotel to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood figures who’ve adorned the proceedings in increasing numbers for the past 20 years. But the star wattage appeared to be dimmed somewhat this year.
The dinner was heavy with actors from programs set in and about Washington, such as “House of Cards,” “Veep,” “Scandal” and “Homeland.”
Hence the contingent from “Madam Secretary,” a fake secretary of state, Tea Leoni, working the room alongside Madeleine Albright, a real-life former secretary of state. The two had talked about a wide variety of topics, Albright said, but on this night she was “explaining Washington” to her. Her particular advice to the actress: “Keep your eyes open.”
Among others in attendance: New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, mogul Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump, former House speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., former House speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., Broadway star Idina Menzel, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, actress Ashley Judd, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, MSNBC host Al Sharpton, and ice skaters Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski. Jane Fonda attended, too, with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
The star attraction, as always, was the president, whose presence on the dinner’s dais all but guarantees a capacity crowd each year. President Obama’s comic stylings were followed this year by “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cecily Strong, one of only four women to be the featured entertainer in the event’s 94-year history. (Their comedy routines occurred too late for this edition.)
This year, the celebrities were even able to watch the celebrities; at the Thomson Reuters pre-dinner reception, a giant screen loomed over guests that live-streamed the red-carpet arrivals. The Bloomberg News party had its own studio inside the party. At the Yahoo-ABC party, Katie Couric schmoozed with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Chris Wallace, a Fox News host. Roland Foster, a former congressional staffer, dove in for a selfie with Scalia. “You’re awesome!” Foster told him.
The president’s annual comedy routine was months in the making, with input from top writers from “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” and “Saturday Night Live,” among others.
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Washington Post staff writer Roxanne Roberts and Jessica Contrera contributed to this report.