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Joe Biden, At D.C.’s Gridiron Dinner, Jokes About Donald Trump Before Getting Serious About His Threat To Democracy

President Joe Biden, appearing at one of DC’s oldest traditions, the Gridiron Dinner, made some sharp quips about Donald Trump but then turned serious about the threat that his rival poses to democracy.

Biden directed his barbs at his own age and at his predecessor.

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“One candidate’s too old and mentally unfit to be president,” Biden said. “The other guy’s me.”

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The dinner tradition, which dates to the 19th century, is a white-tie night that routinely draws the top echelons of government, media and business to watch journalists perform musical skits and politicians, also including Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Utah Governor Spencer Cox, do some of their own standup.

Biden noted that his student debt relief program “doesn’t apply to everyone. Just yesterday, a defeated-looking man came up and said, “I’m being crushed by debt. I’m completely wiped out.” I said, ‘Sorry, Donald I can’t help out.'”

Noting that Mitch McConnell was stepping down as GOP leader, Biden said, “I hate to see a friend give up in his prime.”

The event — the 139th dinner — featured figures like ABC News’ Jon Karl and CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe in the skits, before an audience that also included Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

The most unexpected attendee was perhaps Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok, who has been meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill as Congress moves toward legislation to force its divestiture from its China-owned parent ByteDance or face being banned on app stores. Chew later shook hands with Biden as the president lingered for a bit afterward chatting with attendees.

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder and owner of The Washington Post, sat next to Biden on the dais, while Leo Eric Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, sat just a few seats down from the person he bears a striking resemblance to, Emhoff. Sure enough, there was a joke about their likeness.

As he noted that he had walked the UAW picket line last year with Whitmer, Biden got in a barb about Bezos, quipping to the crowd, “A strong union can make a corporation quiver. At least that is what Jeff Bezos would tell them.”

Biden said of the Irish prime minister, “He took one look at Congress and he asked for another Guinness.”

Biden, like other speakers, ended on a serious note — even saying, “I wish these were jokes but they’re not.”

“As I said in my State of the Union address, we live in an unprecedented moment of democracy — an unprecedented moment in history,” Biden said. “Democracy and freedom are literally under attack. Putin’s on the march in Europe. My predecessor bows down to him and says, ‘Do whatever the hell you want.’”

The president chided Trump for calling the press “the enemy of the people, even as many of you risked your lives in your jobs, sometimes even giving your life to do this job.”

Biden added, “Good journalism holds a mirror up to a country for us to reflect the good, the bad and the truth about who we are.”

“It is not hyperbole. We need you. Democracy is at risk and the American people need to know. In fractured times, they need a context and perspective. They need substance to match the enormity of the task. As a result, the choices that you make really matter, and each story you make makes democracy stronger.”

He added, “Every single one of us has a role to play in making sure American democracy endures. This year, you, the free press, have a bigger role than ever. Let me state the obvious: You are not the enemy of the people. You are a pillar of any free society.”

The Washington Post’s chief correspondent and president of the Gridiron, Dan Balz, opened the event with his own humor, again aimed at age. He noted that he is the club’s oldest president.

“Our best-known motto is: ‘Singe, don’t burn,’” Balz said. “We also have a lesser-known motto:
‘Elderly and well meaning.’”

With top officials in the Trump and Biden campaigns in the crowd, the musical satires strived for a bit of comedy balance. One featured Trump, a lawyer and a mini-chorus crooning, I Just Can’t Wait To Be King, a play on The Lion King lyrics.

I’m gonna be a dictator on day one, so I said
And on day one he will declare day one will never end
I’ll crush the vermin Democrats from sea to shining sea
I’ll issue pardons all day long, including some for me!
And then he’ll want us all to kiss his ring
Oh I just can’t wait to be king.

Another moment featured Treasury Secretary Janet Yellin as she sang Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

When YOU’RE out pumpin’ gaso-lee-un
Stop mopin’! Be happy (spoken) Be happy, dammit
Woo-woo-woo woo, woo-di-woo-di woo-doo-doo . . . Woo-woo
The market’s boomin’ people why don’t you get it?
You’re all too dumb to give the president credit?
Quit whinin’!
Vote Biden!
Quit whinin’!
Vote Biden!

The dinner’s speakers traditionally feature one Republican and one Democratic figure.

Cox, speaking for the GOP side, was a standout, as he came with a volley of quips. The Utah governor was a last minute addition after Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin had to drop out. Cox quipped to the well-heeled crowd, “I’m sure some of you have traveled to places like Utah, places like Park City and Sundance Film Festival. That’s fancy Utah, like if Jon Huntsman or Mitt Romney were a city.”

“Full disclosure, though: I did get a little help with my speech. So Senator Katie Britt offered some coaching. Notice I am a little breathy tonight…”

“But I also reached out to my friend Mitch McConnell for some ideas and he said…” Cox then stopped a froze. That drew some laughter and some ooohs.

Cox responded, “We really didn’t know if we should use that one. I spoke to Mitch and he said he was okay with it….Well, he implied that he was OK with it…He didn’t say no.”

Cox, who is chair of the National Governors Association, has started a new initiative called Disagree Better, to improve public discourse. “We are better than the hatred and the divisiveness,” he said. “I know it’s fun to make fun of MAGA. I get it. There are really people living real lives out there who are scared, partially because they have been lied to, but partially because they are struggling right now. And the same thing is happening on the other side.”

“The only way we fix this is if we pull our heads out of our collective asses and start caring about each other again. There’s nothing more un-American than hating our fellow Americans.”

After he finished, Cox hugged Biden and Harris.

Whitmer opened her bit with one of the night’s most ribald quips: “I want to acknowledge the president of Gridiron Dan Balz, my friend and colleague governor of Utah Spencer Cox. You know, the Gridiron has come a long way, but on a night where you have your first woman vice president and ‘that woman’ from Michigan, we’re still starting with cocks and balls.”

Another: “D.C. is a special town. There are so many fascinating characters here. Speaker Mike Johnson, off to a rocky start. Speaker Johnson and his teenage son use and app called Covenant Eyes. This is a porn accountability app. … How good is this app? Everytime Mike Johnson gets screwed by his own caucus his son gets a notification.”

She, too, took on a sober tone at the end of her speech, referring to the January 6th attack on the Capitol as well as a foiled plot to kidnap her. “We must never forget that. I personally know the stakes of rising political violence too well.”

Biden and Harris both stayed for a bit after the dinner ended. Biden chatted with journalists and other attendees, telling a Wall Street Journal editor that the administration is doing what it can to secure the release of Evan Gershkovich, detained in Russia for nearly a year.

The president posed for selfies and even called a woman’s mother. And, asked by Deadline how he handles hecklers, who have been a common presence at his speeches and even at the State of the Union, he said, “Well, they aren’t very smart.”

Harris, meanwhile, was asked what she thought of the dinner. “It’s a part of a tradition and it’s wonderful. It’s a good tradition.” She then ribbed Politico’s Jonathan Martin, asking him, “Were you in the dog uniform? Was that you?” One skit featured a singing Commander, one of the Biden’s dogs, along with injured Secret Service agents. For the record, Martin did not play the dog.

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