Obama jokes about Woodward-Sperling clash, Sen. Rubio at Gridiron dinner

President Obama joked Saturday about two topics that generated mammoth amounts of Beltway attention in recent weeks: Legendary reporter Bob Woodward’s exchange with White House economic chief Gene Sperling, and Sen. Marco Rubio’s hydration.

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“This whole brouhaha has had me a little surprised . . . Who knew Gene [Sperling] could be so intimidating? Or let me phrase it differently: Who knew anybody named Gene could be this intimidating?,” Obama said at the annual Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner.

Woodward and Sperling had a now-infamous conversation and email exchange regarding Woodward’s claims about the origins of the across-the-board budget cuts called the sequester.

The Washington Post reporter’s characterization of the exchange with Sperling has attracted plenty of criticism. He made much of Sperling saying Woodward would “regret” his characterization of Obama’s position on the budget matter.

But Sperling’s email implies that he used the word to suggest only that Woodward would come to regret what Sperling and other White officials considered inaccurate journalism.

Obama also used his routine to give a nod to Woodward’s role in uncovering the Watergate scandal that eventually brought down the late President Richard Nixon.

“You notice that some folks couldn’t make it this evening. It’s been noted that Bob Woodward sends his regrets, which Gene Sperling predicted. . . . I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively, but hey, can anybody tell me when an administration has ever regretted picking a fight with Bob Woodward?" Obama asked. "What’s the worse that could happen?"

Obama also joked about Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pausing while delivering the GOP response to his State of the Union speech in order to reach for a water bottle and take a sip.

Obama, according to a pool report, said, “as I begin my second term, our country is still facing enormous challenges,” then paused for a long drink, and added: ““That, Marco Rubio, is how you take a sip of water.”
 
The president’s routine also turned to Secretary of State John Kerry, who took over for former secretary Hillary Clinton.

“Let’s face it. Hillary is a tough act to follow . . . Frankly, though, I think it’s time for him to stop showing up at work in pant suits. It’s a disturbing image. I don’t know where he buys them. He’s a tall guy,” Obama said at the Renaissance Washington Hotel.

Politicians and journalists use the dinner for the foundation, which supports scholarships and journalistic organizations, to showcase their comedic skills.

Elsewhere, Obama’s jokes turned to the attention that New York Times columnist Nate Silver received during the 2012 election.

Silver drew plenty of conservative scorn during the election for concluding, based on his model of analyzing polls, that Obama had a strong chance of winning at a time when supporters of GOP hopeful Mitt Romney were calling the race a toss-up.

“Now I’m sure that you’ve noticed that there’s somebody very special in my life who’s missing tonight, somebody who’s always got my back, stands with me no matter what and gives me hope no matter how dark things seem. So tonight I want to publicly thank my rock, my foundation. Thank you, Nate Silver,” Obama said, according to the pool report.

Obama was also on the receiving end of humor at the event.

Gridiron President Charles J. Lewis of Hearst Newspapers referenced press corps' grumbles about Obama failing to provide interviews to major newspapers in favor of friendlier press settings. 

“As we were walking in, I thought I heard [the president] say, ‘So many newspaper reporters. So many interviews to turn down,’” Lewis said.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), a potential presidential candidate, also took the stage. From the Associated Press:

Jindal took a poke at Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, saying that Romney had warned him that “47 percent of you can’t take a joke.” Referring to his own prospects for a presidential run, Jindal asked, “What chance does a skinny guy with a dark complexion have of being elected president?”

Obama also referenced his use of teleprompters for speeches, which has drawn scorn in conservative circles.

“After nine years, I finally said goodbye to my chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau. I watched him grow up. He’s almost like a son to me, he’s been with me so long. And I said to him when he first informed me of his decision, I said, ‘Favs, you can’t leave.’ ”

“And he answered with three simple words – ‘yes, I can.’ Fortunately, he did not take the prompter on his way out. That would have been a problem,” Obama said, according to a White House transcript.

Elsewhere, he joked about the confrontation between Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and now-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a former GOP senator, during Hagel’s rocky confirmation hearing for the Pentagon post.

McCain aggressively questioned Hagel during the hearing, laying bare the divide between the former Republican colleagues.

“I’m also doing what I can to smooth things over with Republicans in Congress. In fact, these days John McCain and I are spending so much time together that he told me we were becoming friends. I said, ‘John, stop. Chuck Hagel warned me how this ends up,’ ” Obama said.


Guests at the dinner included several Cabinet members, three governors, several senators and House members, and a number of the most high-profile members of the Washington press corps, according to the pool report.