In The Know

Lawmakers steer clear of Trump talk at congressional dinner

Greg Nash

President Trump is dominating the headlines, but his name was uttered just a handful of times at the Washington Press Club Foundation’s congressional dinner, as Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike steered clear of the controversial commander in chief.

“On behalf of the Republicans in the room: We love the press!” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said as he took to the podium as one of the two featured speakers Wednesday at the annual lawmaker- and journalist-filled ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in downtown Washington.

Saying it was “awesome” to have MSNBC host Greta Van Susteren as the evening’s emcee, Scott said: “Greta, now that you’re with MSNBC, maybe you can clear something up for me. Anytime anyone in the media reports fake news, does Brian Williams get a royalty?” referring to the former “NBC Nightly News” anchor who in 2015 was found to have embellished stories about his reporting multiple times.

{mosads}As the audience reacted with some groans, Scott exclaimed, “I’ve got used to the booing at the town halls!”

Many of Scott’s jokes were racially charged.

Noting some “ugly comments” he received on Twitter, Scott recalled: “Someone said, ‘You’re just not black enough.’ I said, ‘Have you seen [Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)]?’ What is black enough?”

Scott, 51, also claimed a producer was interested in creating a reality TV show focused on him and Booker. The name of the show, Scott jested, was going to be “50 Shades Darker.”

The junior senator didn’t touch the topic of Trump until his very last line of the night at the roast-like gathering.

“I hate to speak and run, but I finally got an invite to the White House,” Scott said with a smile. “Tonight is movie night, and I hear we’re watching the president’s favorite: ‘From Russia With Love.’ ”

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) was next to take the reins at the 73rd annual event.

“Let me just get some basic housekeeping out of the way, because we’re in this day of fake news and alternative facts,” the Louisiana Democrat said as he began his remarks. “First off, the [Congressional Black Caucus] is alive and well. Frederick Douglass, by the way, is dead.”

“The Bowling Green Massacre never happened. And Muhammad Ali’s son is an American-born Muslim, so there’s no need to detain him in the airport,” Richmond said to some applause from the audience, which also included lobbyists and other political types.

Some of Richmond’s more biting attempts at humor appeared to fall flat, including an exchange in which the senator asked Scott to explain a photo that went viral this week of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway sitting with her legs tucked under her on a couch in the Oval Office.

“I really just want to know what was going on [in the Conway photo], because I won’t tell anybody and you can just explain to me that circumstance, because she really looked to me familiar in that position,” Richmond said, as some in the crowd were seen wincing in response.

Saying at one point that Trump wouldn’t know what the Underground Railroad was and would ask how much the train fare was for it, Richmond added, “It’s not really my president, so I can make those jokes.”

Richmond, like Scott, took a more serious tone as he wrapped up his comments. Saying the role of the press is “essential,” he told the audience: “And it is the only way that a democracy can survive. But it’s also the only way that a dictator can’t survive.”

Veteran radio broadcaster Diane Rehm also got serious as she accepted the night’s lifetime achievement award.

“I am deeply, deeply worried about the state of the entire media today,” Rehm said. “We are told to shut up by high-ranking members of this administration.”

“We must not be silenced. We must not be intimidated. We must continue to bring forth the facts. And we must not shut up,” she said.

Among the many lawmakers and VIPs eyed at the soiree and the pre-dinner reception sponsored by The Hill: Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), John Delaney (D-Md.), James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.).

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was seen sporting ashes for Ash Wednesday on his forehead, while Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark. ) was eyed clutching the hand of his wife, Anna, most of the night. Omarosa Manigault, the assistant to the president — who attended as a guest of “PBS NewsHour” — chatted it up with Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

Tags Al Franken Cheri Bustos Debbie Stabenow Elizabeth Warren Jason Chaffetz Richard Blumenthal Ron Wyden Tim Scott Tom Cotton

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