WASHINGTON - President Obama often seems weary of being a political punching bag. But Saturday night, he was loose and relaxed-looking as he turned the tables for a few minutes.
Speaking at the 130th annual Gridiron Club dinner, Obama took humorous swipes at just about everyone: the House speaker, John Boehner; the Republican presidential candidates; Hillary Rodham Clinton; Vice President Biden; political reporters; and Brian Williams, NBC’s suspended anchor.
Several of the jokes were aimed at Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin and a likely presidential contender, who was also a featured speaker at the event.
“The other week he said he didn’t know whether or not I was a Christian,” Obama noted. “And I was taken aback, but fortunately my faith teaches us forgiveness. So, Gov. Walker: as-salamu alaykum.”
He added that Walker “got some heat for staying silent when Rudy Giuliani said I don’t love America.”
“If I did not love America,” Obama joked, “I wouldn’t have moved here from Kenya.” He was born in Hawaii.
For his part, Walker offered a bit of self-deprecating humor, noting that his failure to graduate from college has become an issue as he considers a campaign to retake the Oval Office for Republicans.
“If my first term is anything like college, I won’t make it through four years,” Walker joked.
Obama tweaked Bill O’Reilly of Fox News over allegations that O’Reilly has exaggerated his war reporting. The president said he was concerned about a possible “conservative coup” aimed at Boehner, “or as Bill O’Reilly calls it, ‘reporting from the war zone.’”
“The good news is, Bill has an eyewitness who can back up some of his claims,” Obama added. “The bad news, of course, is that it’s Brian Williams.”
He also pledged to acknowledge the leader of the House Republicans “as soon as I figure out who that is.”
The president did not avoid the email scandal swirling around Clinton. He noted that “Hillary has got a server in her house” - and joked that it proves he is no longer the tech-savvy candidate of the future.
“I am so far behind,” he said. “Did you know that? I would have gotten one.”
He made fun of Biden’s back-rubbing prowess, saying that the vice president’s back rubs are “not bad.”
“It feels pretty good,” he said.
He noted that if the crowd laughed at his jokes more than the last time he was around in 2013 there might be a reason for it.
“I’m not saying I’m any funnier,” he said. “I’m saying weed is now legal in D.C.”
And he joked about Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s history as a slick, mega-donor for President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.
“He’s the first person who’s actually been upset to learn you can’t ask people for tons of money once you become the governor of Virginia,” Obama said, quickly following it with a jab at Bob McDonald, the former Republican governor who was convicted of corruption. “Well, except maybe the previous governor of Virginia.”
McAuliffe, who was also a featured speaker, repeatedly imagined himself as president, and joked that people think he is too close to the Clintons. He challenged those people to take it up with him directly via email - and offered up an address @clintonemail.com.
Obama got serious only at the end of his remarks, when he acknowledged that the “world of media may be changing,” but that Americans count on the news media to “provide context, to see past the superficial, and in some cases, to risk everything in pursuit of the true story, and to hold us - those of us in power - to account.”
He concluded with one last joke, amending his normal closing by saying: “Thank you, God bless you. And God bless one of the many countries that I love.”
Attending from The Buffalo News were Warren T. Colville, publisher and president, and his daughter, Waverly T.; Michael K. Connelly, editor and vice president, and Douglas L. Turner, Washington columnist and Gridiron member. Guests of The News were Mayor Byron W. Brown; Anthony Conte, president and CEO of Shea’s Performing Arts Center; David Gordon, CEO of Gordon Cos. Inc; Peter F. Hunt, chairman and CEO of Hunt Real Estate Corp.; Jody L. Lomeo, president and CEO of Kaleida Health and Great Lakes Health System of Western New York Inc.; Patrick A. Marrano, president of Marrano/Marc Equity Corporation, and James D. Newman, president of NOCO Energy Corp.