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President Donald Trump has declared that the media are the “enemy of the people,” but his administration is willing to joke around with reporters — and poke fun at itself — in a venerable Washington tradition.
Vice President Mike Pence was the featured speaker Saturday night at the 132nd annual Gridiron Dinner, a comedic white-tie affair featuring skits, songs and speeches. He called the dinner “a light-hearted respite” from bruising Beltway politics and dished out a number of jokes, including a dig at the best picture snafu at last week’s Academy Awards.
“We haven’t seen that many shocked Hollywood liberals since Nov. 8th,” Pence said, recalling Trump’s Election Day upset victory.
Trump did not attend the dinner, instead spending the weekend at his coastal Florida estate. For more than a century, every president has spoken at the dinner at least once.
But while most of Pence’s remarks were self-deprecating, he also chastised reporters over what he considered unfair news coverage, seeming to channel his boss, the media critic in chief, by saying “we all just have to do better.”
Most of the night, though, was good-humored with jabs at Hillary Clinton, White House leaks and the lingering question of Russian influence in the election.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was the featured Democratic speaker, belted out “Don’t take my Medicare away” during a skit on the main stage. Standing just a few feet away from Pence, she noted that “this president has appointed so many people from Goldman Sachs to his Cabinet that there’s no one left there to listen to Hillary’s speeches.”
“Does the president know you’re here laughing with the enemies of the people?” Pelosi asked. “It’s OK, Mr. Vice President. People here can keep a secret … unlike at the White House.”
And she said she was sorry Trump and his wife couldn’t be there but offered a greeting to the first family — in Russian.
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who gave the Republican address, said her goal was simple: “to make this speech shorter than Mike Flynn’s time at the NSA.” She also noted that Pence was “one heartbeat away from being the second most-powerful person in the country” — behind White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Among the Washington bold-faced names in attendance were former Secretary of State Colin Powell, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and the subject of many jokes, White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
The dinner is a Washington tradition. The Gridiron Club was founded in 1885, just after the election of Grover Cleveland. He never attended a dinner, but every president since has been at least once.
Fifteen journalists formed the club and instituted the formal dinner, in modern times held every year at a downtown Washington hotel in a setting less glitzy and celebrity-studded than its more famous cousin, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Trump has said he will not attend that dinner this year, either.
President Barack Obama attended the dinner three times while in office. George W. Bush made it six out of eight years while in office.
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