The glitchy rollout of HealthCare.gov and a contentious relationship with Congress might have bedeviled the White House over the past year, but at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington on Saturday night, President Obama milked them for comedic fodder.
In the annual tradition of the president offering a sendup of the press, his rivals and often himself, Obama noted that House Republicans have been as tough on Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) as they had previously been on him. “Which proves that orange really is the new black,” he said, to roars from the audience of 2,600 or so members of the media, Congress, visiting celebrities and others at the Washington Hilton. He was, of course, poking fun at the preternaturally tan Boehner who is a frequent target of Washington punch lines.
The technical problems with the government’s health-care Web site provided the inspiration for one of the year’s most popular movies, Obama said. Then the poster for the animated film “Frozen” appeared on the large television screens.
Obama’s routine at the dinner focused mostly on those likely to be vying for the 2016 presidential nominations. Fox News will miss him when he leaves office, he said, because “it will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.”
Comedian Joel McHale, known for his pop-culture satire as the host of “The Soup” on E! and his role on the NBC sitcom “Community,” took a sharp-edged approach to the role of a comic headliner. Early in his routine, he praised Obama’s comedy stylings. “My favorite was when you said you’d close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay,” McHale said. “That was hilarious.”
This year, the dinner had the feeling of worlds colliding. Real Washington met Fake Washington as the casts of “House of Cards,” “Scandal” and “Veep” mixed with their real-life counterparts. At least two faux first ladies — Robin Wright from “House of Cards” and Bellamy Young from “Scandal” — looked on as Michelle Obama awarded scholarships to aspiring journalists, the real aim of the correspondents group.
This year marks the group’s 100th anniversary, and some say the dinner is showing its age. Long viewed as a uncomfortable show of tuxedo-clad coziness between reporters and the public officials they cover, the dinner has also become a commercial platform. Everyone, it seems, is selling something. Media executives doled out tickets to advertisers, starlets hawked their new cable TV shows, and companies sponsored bar tabs at the weekend’s brunches and cocktail parties.
Despite organizers’ best efforts to turn the spotlight back on the actual White House correspondents, gawking at the glittery out-of-towners remained the evening’s favored entertainment.
This year’s celebrity imports included actress Lupita Nyong’o, actor Jeff Goldblum, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and cast members from just about every prime-time network show. Some veteran dinner-goers groused that the caliber of stardom, which in previous years have included Oscar winners and A-listers, was dimmer than usual.
But it was good enough.
House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) said the evening was a chance for Hollywood and Washington to engage in a little mutual admiration. “Everyone ogles each other,” he said. “I’m always amazed when these actors and actresses come here and they want to meet us.”
He walked away, heading toward the ballroom, but then doubled back. “For the record,” he said, “I’m not actually ogling anyone.”