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The Briefing: Trump dines – and jokes with – 'the enemy'

WASHINGTON – President Trump met "the enemy" Saturday night, and it went well.

The enemy, of course, is us – journalists who spend our days and often our nights and weekends telling the American people about the president and members of Congress and all the lesser-known figures who govern us.

Trump famously called us "the enemy of the people," yet there he was at the annual spring dinner of the Gridiron Club, a tight group of elite journalists that serves a quaint yet vital purpose in an increasingly cutthroat capital: promoting good fellowship.

On Saturday, the Gridiron Club achieved its goal. Proof could be found on the face of the president, who laughed even as the journalists mocked him, and in his words.

You might find it strange that presidents and other politicians spend an early-spring evening watching a lavish musical comedy show performed by a bunch of journalists who, for the most part, write better than they sing. Yet they do, and they have since 1885. And in that time, only one president – Buffalo's own Grover Cleveland – has refused to join in the Gridiron's white-tie ritual at least once.

Still, it seemed shocking when Trump, who routinely calls real news "fake news," accepted the Gridiron Club's invitation this year.

The evening began with an admonition, of sorts, from Gridiron President David Lightman of McClatchy News. No, he told the president, journalists don't write fake news.

But Lightman, more in the mood of the evening, also delivered a happier message to the president.

"Rest assured, Mr. President, this crowd is way bigger than Cleveland's," he said.

And so the satire began, and by no means was Trump the only target.

A mock version of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York found himself admonished by a mock version of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who sang that Democrats had high hopes for 2018 – "but Chuck, your stupid federal shutdown jinxed it!"

Meantime, New York's Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand was portrayed, along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Kamala Harris, as "the leftist lady hopefuls of 2020."

"We sure can play rough – ask Franken," they sang to the tune of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, a not-so-subtle shot at their call for the head of Sen. Al Franken after several women accused him of sexual impropriety.

The Gridiron singers later serenaded the president in a skit where his cabinet members sing Cole Porter's "You're the Top" with new lyrics dedicated to the commander-in-chief:

"You're the top/You're a stable genius/Nuclear cop/With the biggest ... button."

All that song-and-dance was just a warm-up for Trump, who, for one night anyway, was intentionally funny.

He noted that his staff wondered if he could pull off a such a comedy routine.

"I told them not to worry. Nobody does self-deprecating humor better than I do," Trump said.

So began a free-wheeling half hour of presidential wit in which no one, not even the first lady, was safe.

Noting that his White House has not exactly proved to be an island of stability, Trump said: "I like turnover. I like chaos. It really is good. Now the question everyone keeps asking is, 'Who's going to be the next to leave? (Presidential aide) Steve Miller or Melania?' "

Trump even had some fun at his own expense, rather than at the expense of North Korea's dictator.

"I won’t rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un," the president said. "I just won’t. As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that’s his problem, not mine."

No doubt some of you are reading all of this and asking: Why? Why would a bunch of journalists meet for a lighthearted evening with any president, much less one who has done more to denigrate the free press than anyone since Richard Nixon?

"Why act as if press-Trump relations are essentially good-natured?" New York Times editorial writer Clyde Haberman asked on Twitter. "He'd eviscerate the First Amendment if he could."

It's a legitimate question.

But Saturday's dinner also provided what seems to be a legitimate answer.

Amid all the fun, for one evening, at least, the president seemed to appreciate the press for what it is: an important cog in American democracy.

"I want to thank the press for all you do to support and sustain our democracy," Trump said. "I mean that. I mean that. Some incredible people in the press … brilliant, powerful, smart, and fair people in the press."

Happening today

President Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley ... Vice President Mike Pence addresses the annual America Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference ... Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at a conference of the Council of Chief State School Officers ... The Senate considers several judicial nominations.

Good reads

The New York Times notes that the State Department has $120 million to fight Russian election meddling – but has spent none of it ... The Washington Post describes how the Senate seems poised to loosen banking regulations ... Reuters notes that as President Trump pushes tariffs on steel and aluminum, Congress is moving in the opposition direction on trade ... The Associated Press notes that the nation's most vulnerable lawmakers are steering clear of the gun debate ... Vox tells us that Democrats are suddenly competitive in deep-red Texas.


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