But shortly afterward, the White House Correspondents’ Association, which hosts the annual black-tie affair, put to rest any drama that Trump’s “probably not” might have stirred up. The White House told the organization that Trump wouldn’t attend the April 28 affair but that press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would “represent the administration” and sit at the head table, association president Margaret Talev said in a statement.
And unlike last year, when members of the Trump administration also skipped the dinner in solidarity with their boss, Trump “will actively encourage” executive branch folks to go, Talev said.
So any media organizations angling for a Cabinet member at their table might just have a shot (wrangling A-list guests is practically a sport among the media organizations that attend the dinner).
Trump remains the only president since Ronald Reagan to skip the dinner, and Reagan had a pretty good reason: He had just been shot.
But offering an indication that he’s not completely unwilling to go along with the social traditions that come with the job, Trump did attend this year’s Gridiron Club dinner, a far smaller gathering of a club made up of top Washington journalists.
Unlike the Gridiron, the WHCA’s dinner is televised, and includes a stand-up act by a professional comedian, whose jokes are often lobbed at the president, which would put Trump in the kind of awkward position he tends to shun. And it’s tradition for the president to deliver his own jokey monologue, something with which Trump has had mixed success. At the Gridiron, he did get off a few funny lines. But his act didn’t go over well at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner in New York in 2016, when instead of the usual good-natured ribbing, he went after his then-rival and fellow attendee Hillary Clinton, calling her “corrupt.”
Author Michael Wolff wrote in his book “Fire and Fury” that Trump was confident he could perform well at the 2017 WHCA dinner but that his staff was “terrified that he would die up there in front of a seething and contemptuous audience. Although he could dish it out, often very harshly, no one thought he could take it.”