It was the hottest ticket in town, a black-tie dinner gathering of Washington’s political and media elite but Dick Cheney couldn’t make it.
The former vice president was busy, President Barack Obama joked, working on his memoir “tentatively titled, How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People.’ “
As the star attraction of Saturday night’s star-studded annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, Obama enjoyed poking fun at his critics and the Republican Party. But his own administration, in power for just over 100 days, was also a target of the president’s playful digs and one-liners.
“I believe my next hundred days will be so successful that I will be able to complete them in 72 days,” he said to a roar of laughter. “And on my 73rd day, I will rest.”
His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, Obama observed, always has a hard time on Mother’s Day.
“He’s not used to saying the word ‘day’ after ‘mother,'” Obama said.
The chairman of Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, was “in the house tonight,” Obama noted. “Or as he would say, ‘In the heezy.'”
“Michael for the last time, the Republican Party does not qualify for a bailout,” Obama told Steele. “Rush Limbaugh does not count as a troubled asset, I’m sorry.”
Obama made light of his frequent use of a teleprompter and poked fun at Vice President Joe Biden’s habit of speaking off the cuff. And about the Democratic Party, Obama said his administration has helped in “bringing in fresh, young faces ? like Arlen Specter.” The 79-year-old Pennsylvania senator, a former Republican, switched parties last month.
Obama noted that he and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had once been political rivals. “These days,” he assured the gathering at the Washington Hilton ballroom, “we could not be closer.”
“In fact the second she got back from Mexico, she pulled me into a hug and said I should go down there myself.”
Near the end of his talk, Obama turned serious and spoke of the financially struggling media industry, praising journalists for holding government officials accountable. “A government without newspapers, a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts is not an option for the United States of America,” he said.
The president was the night’s big draw, but not the only comedian.
Comic actress Wanda Sykes, the dinner’s entertainer, teased Obama for giving the Queen of England an iPhone during a recent visit. And she mocked first lady Michelle Obama for patting the queen on the back “like she just slid into home plate ? way to go, queen!”
[Sykes, among other tart barbs, suggested that Rush Limbaugh had a lot in common in Osama bin Laden — they both want Obama to fail.]
Proceeds from this year’s event go to feeding the hungry and funding journalism scholarships.
The correspondents’ association donated $23,000 ? some of it saved by skipping formal dessert at the dinner ? and raised another $75,000 from several major media organizations for two food banks, So Others Might Eat and Share Our Strength.
Funding for the journalism scholarships remained at $132,000 a year, an expanded level set in 2008.
Along with the reporters, the $200-per-ticket dinner attracted plenty of VIPs from outside the Beltway.
Among those attending were Eva Longoria Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Christian Slater, Natalie Portman, Sting, Mariska Hargitay, Steven Spielberg and Jon Bon Jovi. Also there was Richard Phillips, who was held hostage by Somali pirates after his cargo ship was attacked.