Washington’s political and media elites observe their annual truce — of a few hours — Saturday at the White House Correspondents Association dinner, where President Joe Biden will find himself the butt of jokes and hit back with his own.
The ritual is a landmark on the US capital’s social calendar and once again takes place in the same Hilton Hotel where Ronald Reagan was shot and nearly killed by John Hinckley Jr in 1981, as he left from delivering a speech to trade unions.
The dinner institution had started to wither — first boycotted by Donald Trump, then shut down for Covid-19 altogether.
Even last year, strict Covid testing, frequent use of masks and many guests keeping away resulted in a relatively low-key affair.
Saturday’s event, said White House Correspondents Association President Tamara Keith, is “completely sold out.”
Keith, a correspondent for NPR radio, said hundreds of people had been turned away after tickets ran out.
“It’s post-Covid. People last year were pretty nervous about going into a ballroom with 2,600 people in it, and this year, they are climbing over each other to get there,” she told The Hill.
Among those extra guests is Vice President Kamala Harris, joining 80-year-old Biden on stage in the same week that they declared their 2024 reelection bid.
Having both the president and vice president in attendance will restore a tradition last observed in 2016, the final dinner before Trump entered the White House.
Hollywood figures, Washington politicians of all stripes and representatives of every media organization imaginable will cram inside Saturday.
As in previous years, a prominent comedian will perform, this time “Daily Show” correspondent Roy Wood Jr.
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– Serious joking matter –
The occasion is meant to celebrate the constitution’s First Amendment guaranteeing free speech — and a free press. However, the jokes tend to get the headlines.
Wood, speaking to CBS News, said the two aspects are mutually reinforcing.
“I have an opportunity as a citizen to look elected officials in the face and go, ‘Here’s where you’re all messing up,'” he said, adding, “it needs to be funny.”
If previous editions are a guide, many jokes will be directed at Biden, but also at the journalists who cover him. Polls show less than half the country approves of the Democrat, while the media get little love from much of the country, presenting many easy targets.
Wood is also likely to direct barbs at members of Congress and, undoubtedly, given the new election cycle, Trump and other Republicans eying White House runs.
Biden will get his own slot and an opportunity to show he can take the heat.
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He may have been practicing on Friday, delivering his trademark brand of self-deprecation about his age — though more dad joke than edgy late-night TV fare.
Referring to a speech by president Dwight Eisenhower 65 years ago, Biden quipped at a ceremony honoring the Air Force football team, “I wasn’t there.”
After pausing for the laughter, he added: “No matter what the press says.”