Sun, 1 May 2022, 1:01 pm
President Joe Biden made light of his own poor approval ratings at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday evening, ending a six-year presidential hiatus at the annual event.
Mr Biden was the first president to deliver an address at the dinner since 2016, after Covid sidelined it in 2020 and 2021 and Donald Trump shunned the event throughout his presidency.
The president took the opportunity to test out his comedic skills, making light of the criticism he has faced in his 15 months in office while taking aim at his predecessor, the Republican Party and the members of the press.
“I’m really excited to be here tonight with the only group of Americans with a lower approval rating than I have,” Mr Biden told an audience of 2,600, among them journalists, government officials and celebrities.
“Just imagine if my predecessor came to this dinner this year,” he added. “Now that would really have been a real coup.”
Mr Biden also made light of the “Let’s Go Brandon” slogan, which has become the Right’s stand-in for attacking the president.
“Republicans seem to support one fella, some guy named Brandon,” Mr Biden said, causing an uproar of laughter among the crowd. “He’s having a really good year. I’m happy for him.”
In addition to speeches from Mr Biden and comedian Trevor Noah, the event had filmed segments from the likes of James Corden and the comedian Bill Eichner.
“Thank you for having me here,” Mr Noah said to Mr Biden. “And I was a little confused on why me, but then I was told that you get your highest approval ratings when a biracial African guy is standing next to you.”
While the majority of the speech was filled with cutting jokes, Mr Biden did make note of the important role journalism plays in American democracy, especially in the last decade.
“I mean this from the bottom of my heart, that you, the free press, matter more than you ever did in the last century,” he said. “You are the guardians of the truth.”
The dinner had other serious moments, with tributes to pioneer journalists of color, aspiring student reporters, as well as a dedication to the journalists detained, injured or killed during the coverage of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A recent rise in Covid cases in Washington, in particular an outbreak at the journalists’ white-tie Gridiron dinner early in April, brought an undercurrent of caution to the White House dinner.
Organisers required every attendee be tested for the virus, and some top officials, including infectious disease expert Dr Antony Fauci, dropped out.
Mr Biden took the opportunity to poke fun at hosts from the Fox News TV station in attendance – many of whom voice skepticism of vaccines on air – by pointing out they had to prove vaccination status in order to attend.
The President took extra precautions by skipping the dinner portion and attending only the speakers’ section. He opted not to wear a mask while speaking.