President Obama spoke to the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner Saturday night, poking fun at his administration and the press corps, while also paying tribute to the police officers, firefighters and volunteers who responded to the recent tragedies in Boston and West, Texas.
Obama took to the podium to "All I Do is Win," a rap song by DJ Khaled, saying “Rush Limbaugh warned you about this … second term, baby.” He said his advisers were “a little worried” about the entrance and instead suggested he tell some jokes at his own expense, to take himself down “a couple pegs.”
“After four and half years, how many pegs are left?” he asked.
As an example, he pointed to recent remarks at a fundraiser where he said California Attorney General Kamala Harris was the best looking attorney general in the country. “I got in trouble when I got back home. Who knew Eric Holder was so sensitive?”
Speaking to a crowd of approximately 2,700 news personalities, celebrities and politicians, Obama targeted some of his humor at the White House press corps, saying “CNN taken some knocks” for its coverage in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. Obama said he appreciated the cable network’s desire to cover all sides of a story, “just in case one of them happens to be accurate.” The network and others in the news media were criticized after prematurely reporting that Boston police had arrested a suspect in the bombings.
He also said some of his advisers have moved to the “dark side,” noting that David Axelrod, his former senior adviser, now works for MSNBC, “which is a nice change of pace because MSNBC used to work for David Axelrod.”
Online news sources also got a shout out, with Obama saying "media is changing." “I remember when Buzzfeed was just something I did in college around 2 a.m.,” Obama said. “It’s true.”
Obama turned to his recent efforts to reach across the aisle. “Recently, I had dinner with a number of the Republican senators. Wasn’t easy. I proposed a toast. It died in committee.”
“Even after I’ve done all this, some folks think I don’t spend enough time with Congress. ‘Why don’t you get a drink with [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.]?’” they ask, Obama said. “Really? Why don’t YOU get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”
Obama said he would not give up and would take his charm offensive on the road. “A Texas barbecue with [Sen.] Ted Cruz [R-Texas], a Kentucky bluegrass concert with [Sen.] Rand Paul [R-Ky.], and a book burning with [Rep.] Michelle Bachmann [R-Minn.].“
Noting his trip to the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum this week, Obama said he is hard at work on the Obama library. While he said some have suggested he build it in his birthplace, Obama said “I’d rather keep it in the United States.”
“Did anyone not see that coming,” he asked. “Maybe Gallup? Dick Morris?”
Obama, though, closed on a serious note, saying there’s been no shortage of news in recent days.
“These have been some very hard days for too many of our citizens,” mentioning the residents of Boston, West, Texas, and the Midwest, who are dealing with floods.
“We have seen humanity shine at its brightest.”
“We also saw journalists at their best,” he added.
Obama praised the first responders he's met recently, saying "they don’t do it to be honored, they don’t do it to be celebrated. They do it because they love their families and they love their neighborhoods and they love their country."
He said that the police officers and volunteers who raced to help should inspire the dinner's guests to live up to higher standards.
Obama said that when media outlets only focus on profits or ratings, they are only contributing to the cynicism that many of us feel. “Those of us in this room tonight. We’re incredibly lucky, but we can do better.”
The president and first lady entered the Washington Hilton ballroom just before 8:15 p.m., followed by the presentation of the colors by an Armed Forces color guard and the National Anthem played by the Marine Corps Band.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, whose son is a veteran, saluted members of the color guard, saying they “represent over 2 million men and women … who serve our country so that we can have nights like tonight.” “As we sit here this evening, there are hundreds of thousands of men and women around the world serving our country so we can maintain our security.”
He asked members of the audience with loved ones in the service to stand as the band played a medley of service branch anthems.
Master of ceremonies Conan O’Brien later drew some comparisons with the president.
“We both went to Harvard, we both have two children and we both told Joe Biden we didn’t have extra tickets to tonight’s events,” O’Brien said, adding that he also got in trouble for talking about another “stone-cold fox: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.”
The TBS late-night host congratulated C-Span for winning broadcasting rights for the dinner, “beating out HGTV2, QVC South America and the Hilton Hotel “How to Check Out” channel.
O’Brien said he worked the room before the dinner, saying he sold his Twitter account to Al Jazeera for $5 million. “They’ll buy anything,” he joked.
O’Brien, who also headlined the swank Washington soiree in 1995, said he would be back in another 18 years. With current trends, though, he said he would open with “Buenos Noches.”
O’Brien also joked that someone “accidentally” sat Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) with the Republicans. “That was awkward, I apologize.”
ITK caught up with Christie immediately following the dinner to ask him what he thought about the zinger.
“It was great. Listen, you know, they mention you in the speech, it's a good thing," the governor said. "They didn't mention any other governors, did they? So it's good. It's good.”
O'Brien also pointed out that Christie and former NBA star Shaquille O'Neal were at same table. "Let's give it up for the real unsung hero of the night: their waiter."
O’Brien rattled off a number of one-liners directed at Obama, including a shot at the makeup of his closest advisers. “Your hair is so white, it could be a member of you Cabinet,” he said.
“I’ve made some jokes about the president this evening, and I’m looking forward to my audit,” the comedian added.
WHCA President Ed Henry from Fox News embraced the “nerd prom” theme for the night, opening his remarks by saying that “unlike the real prom, most of you were able to find a date this time.”
Henry also defended criticism of his organization and its annual dinner.
”After last year’s dinner, Tom Brokaw said the evening separates the press from the people they are supposed to serve,” Henry said, adding that the focus should be on the public, and “shouldn’t be on what the Hilton is serving tonight.”
Henry said WHCA officials this year “knocked down” a “gifting suite” popular at Hollywood award ceremonies. Our organization is about “scholarships, not swag,” Henry added.
Money raised from the annual affair funds more than $100,000 in scholarships.
For the first time, cable network E! was on the red carpet for the dinner, commenting on the stars and fashions at Washington’s social event of the year.
Actress and activist Sophia Bush told Marc Malkin and Alicia Quarles that she was looking forward to the event. “I’m always curious about what’s making the pulse of politics beat.”
Actress Olivia Munn said she didn’t envision herself ever walking the red carpet, instead thinking she’d be “waiting for a callback” for a Taco Bell commercial.
Highlights from their coverage will be shown Monday night on the cable network's "E! News."
--ITK columnist Judy Kurtz contributed to this report.