Lawmakers yuk it up at annual Washington Press Club dinner

Lawmakers yukked it up Wednesday night at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, putting their best one-liners on the line at the Washington Press Club Foundation’s Congressional Dinner.

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The 69th annual dinner brought together journalists, staffers, and members of Congress, and featured remarks by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

Heitkamp set low expectations for herself, saying near the beginning of her speech, “The truth is, like almost every politician you know, I’m not very funny.”

The crowd seemed to think otherwise, applauding and cracking up at the freshman senator’s mostly self-deprecating quips.

She recalled a time when, as North Dakota state tax commissioner, she was getting odd looks from a resident while giving a talk at a meeting: “She approaches me and she says, ‘Excuse me… you’ve tucked your skirt into the back of your pantyhose.’ ”

Heitkamp also took a slight dig at her colleague in Congress, Chaffetz, who famously slept in his office after arriving in the nation’s capital. She said with a smile, “I thought you’d want to know what it’s like to be 100th in seniority in the United States Senate. My office is small and certainly not big enough to live in.” She then turned to Chaffetz and cracked, “Was there room for the Donny and Marie posters?”

The lawmaker might soon have a new nickname when she returns to work after Wednesday’s speech: the unicorn. She received some of the biggest reaction from the crowd when she asked, “How did this middle-aged, redheaded Democrat win a United States Senate seat in a red state that the president lost by 21 points? To you, I’m like a unicorn.”

Chaffetz also had the crowd letting out loud laughs with his often-edgy barbs.

“As you know, Republicans are trying to turn over a new leaf. We really want to highlight the diversity of our party,” he said. “So they sent me — a white, male conservative Mormon from Utah to speak to you tonight.” He added to applause, “It’s basically the only constituency we have at this point.”

Saying his party originally wanted to send Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to address the Washington Press Club dinner, they settled on him instead because, “They figured with a name like Chaffetz, that’s close enough to be Hispanic.”

Chaffetz then surmised another reason he may have been picked to deliver jokes at the dinner: “I actually was under the impression because maybe I was an up and coming Republican. But then it turns out they were just looking for a way to save money on alcohol – you know, invite the Mormon!”

“The senator from Idaho isn’t here is he?” he said. The reference to Sen. Michael Crapo (R), who was arrested in December for driving under the influence, elicited gasps and thunderous claps from the audience.

Chaffetz told ITK after finishing up his speech that he was most nervous about getting laughs from the get-go and cracking up the crowd at the beginning of his speech.

At the annual event, Newsweek’s first female senior editor, Lynn Povich, was honored with the Washington Press Club Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Others spotted at the gathering: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) chatting at The Hill’s pre-dinner reception, Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a partygoer bringing Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) a scotch on the rocks, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) chatting with a bolo tie-sporting Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.).