WASHINGTON – It was an enjoyable presidential debut at the Gridiron Club’s annual dinner for Donald Trump, who dished out pointed one-liners and endured some barbs from political rivals and the press.
The gala was “was great fun,” he tweeted on Sunday. “I am accomplishing a lot in Washington and have never had a better time doing something, and especially since this is for the American People!”
During his remarks Saturday night, the president largely put aside his criticism of the media.
“Nobody does self-deprecating humor better than I do,” said Trump, who skipped last year’s bash. He also said: “I was very excited to receive this invitation and ruin your evening in person. That’s why I accepted.”
The annual dinner of the Gridiron Club and Foundation, now in its 133rd year, traces its history to 1885, when President Grover Cleveland refused to attend. Every president since has come to at least one Gridiron.
“Rest assured, Mr. President, this crowd is way bigger than Cleveland’s,” Club President David Lightman, congressional editor for McClatchy News, told the white-tie audience. The organization said the event attracted about 660 journalists, media executives, lawmakers, administration officials and military officers.
Members of the Washington press corps sharpened their wits for musical and rhetorical takedowns of the president, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama.
A sampling of Trump’s 30-minute plus speech:
on his son-in-law: “We were late tonight because Jared could not get through security.”
on Vice President Mike Pence: “He is one of the best straight men you’re ever going to meet … he is straight. Man.” Trump also said, “I really am proud to call him the apprentice.”
on Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “I offered him a ride over and he recused himself. What are you going to do?”
on the New York Times: “I’m a New York icon. You’re a New York icon. And the only difference is I still own my buildings.”
on former chief strategist Steven Bannon: “That guy leaked more than the Titanic.”
on the first lady: Trump said he doesn’t understand why everyone says #freemelania. He said she’s actually having a great time.
Toward the end of his comments, Trump couldn’t resist some of his favorite themes, revisiting his election night victory and chiding reporters to be fair.
He closed by saying: “I just want to say this, this is one of the best times I’ve had with the media – this might be the most fun I’ve had since watching your faces on election night.”
The major political parties found themselves skewered in parody songs in musical skits. By Gridiron tradition, comments came from one Republican, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and one Democrat, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Cotton made light of what he called the source of his personality: the common touch of Harvard, the sensitivity of the Army, and the personal touch of Dick Cheney.
With an eye on the president, Landrieu said: “We’re both overweight and balding. I just have an easier time admitting it.” Noting that Trump had a lonely job, the mayor said, “I understand lonely because I’m a Democrat from the South.” He also observed, “No matter how many times we say it, we don’t drain the swamps either.”
A charitable organization, the Gridiron Club and Foundation contributes to college scholarships and journalistic organizations. Active membership is limited to 65 Washington-based journalists.
Trump wrapped up the evening on an upbeat note.
“I want to thank the press for all you do to support and sustain our democracy,” he said in closing.
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