United States President Joe Biden was the subject of several pointed jokes at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner while taking the opportunity to hit back with a few of his own.
Washington’s political and media elites gathered on Saturday night in the US capital for an annual event whose mood ranged from traditional comedy gags to somber calls to free reporters imprisoned abroad.
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Headlining the after-dinner entertainment was Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr, who gleefully mocked Biden, 80, for running for a second term, which could mean Biden would still be president at age 86.
Wood noted recent angry protests in France against raising the retirement age.
“They rioted because they didn’t want to work until 64. Meanwhile, in America, we have an 80-year-old man begging us for four more years of work,” he joked.
When it was his turn at the microphone, Biden took a jab at House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and a recent bill Republicans passed that would lift the debt ceiling in exchange for a series of budget cuts, including some of Biden’s key legislative achievements.
“The last time Republicans voted for something that hapless, it took 15 tries,” Biden said, referring to the number of votes in the House of Representatives that McCarthy needed to become speaker in January.
Biden even made a couple of self-deprecating jokes, mostly surrounding criticism of his age as he mounts a bid for re-election.
He also targeted CNN presenter Don Lemon, who was sacked after making sexist and ageist remarks on air.
“Call me old,” Biden said. “I call it being seasoned. You say I am ancient. I say I’m wise. You say I’m over the hill. Don Lemon would say that’s a man in his prime.”
‘Journalism not a crime’
Biden also spoke about several American journalists held in other countries.
“We are here to send a message to the country and, quite frankly, to the world: The free press is a pillar, maybe the pillar, of a free society, not the enemy,” Biden said in his speech.
After arriving at the dinner, the president and first lady, Jill Biden, met privately with the parents of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been imprisoned in Russia since March.
He was charged with spying despite strong denials from his employer and the US government. Some guests wore buttons with “Free Evan” printed on them.
Also among the 2,600 people attending the gala was Debra Tice, the mother of Austin Tice, who has not been heard from since disappearing at a checkpoint in Syria in 2012. US officials say they operate under the assumption that he is alive and are working to try to bring him home.
“Journalism is not a crime. Evan and Austin should be released immediately along with every other American detained abroad,” Biden said. “I promise you, I am working like hell to get them home.”