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Biden waves at Trump during White House Correspondents Dinner remarks as pro-Palestinian protesters gather outside – KION546

CNN

By Michael Williams, Kaanita Iyer, Kayla Tausche, Kevin Liptak and MJ Lee, CNN

Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden joked about his predecessor and poked fun at his own age at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday, as a sizable group of pro-Palestinian protesters outside the venue underscored the problems his campaign faces amid criticism of his handling of the war in Gaza.

“Of course the 2024 election is in full swing and yes, age is an issue: I’m a grown man running against a six-year-old,” Biden said, referring to former President Donald Trump, whom he called “Sleepy.” Mafia boss.”

Biden told a crowd of nearly 3,000 journalists, celebrities and politicians: “Age is the only thing we have in common. My vice president actually supports me.”

The president then drew a contrast between his re-election campaign, which has ramped up since his State of the Union address last month, and that of Trump, who has spent less time on the trail during his criminal trial in New York over an alleged hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

“I’ve had a great time since the State of the Union, but Donald has had some rough days lately,” Biden said. “You could call it ‘stormy’ weather.”

The night’s other headliner, Colin Jost of “Saturday Night Live,” also addressed Trump’s legal troubles, starting his set with, “Can we just acknowledge how refreshing it is to see a President of the United States at an event that doesn’t start? with a bailiff saying: ‘All rise’?’

Jost also made fun of the age of both candidates: “I’m not saying either candidate is old, but you know Jimmy Carter thinks, ‘I might win this thing.'”

Although Biden has given these speeches before, continuing a tradition that dates back to Calvin Coolidge, the stakes were high for what could be his final Correspondents’ Dinner at the White House. His approval rating is falling and voters and donors alike have raised questions about whether he has the mental acuity for the job. This year’s dinner also came as pro-Palestinian protests broke out on college campuses across the country.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been following Biden around the country for months, and Saturday was no different. As journalists and celebrities entered the Washington Hilton, protesters accused them of co-signing the president’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, shouting, “Shame on you!” while urging them to speak out against the killing of journalists in Gaza. At least 97 journalists — 92 of them Palestinians — have been killed in the region since Hamas’s attacks on Oct. 7, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit organization that tracks the death toll.

“It is an absolute shame that people are attending this White House Correspondents’ Dinner when journalists in Gaza have called for a boycott of it. …Every person in there chooses to stay on the side of history that sides with profit over freedom,” said Mimi Ziad, a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement, one of the organizers of the protest.

While Biden’s speech touched on serious issues, including emphasizing press freedom and the danger that a second Trump presidency poses to democracy, the president made no mention of the war in Gaza.

A look at the Biden team’s preparation

When Biden made remarks announcing that he had signed critical legislation sending $61 billion in aid to Ukraine and $26 billion in aid to Israel and Gaza, a new critic was ready: Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-chair of Biden’s re-election campaign and former chief of the elections. from content studio Dreamworks.

Katzenberg has often advised Biden on messaging to donors and voters. This week he was on hand to watch Biden deliver scripted material — and to help the 81-year-old president deliver punchlines to the reporters covering him.

“He’s the Hollywood guy,” an administration official told CNN. “He’s the entertainer.”

Administration officials said Katzenberg led daily strategy sessions with aides at the White House residence this week to adapt Biden’s comedy set drawn up by longtime speechwriter Vinay Reddy.

The group agreed on the material a full day earlier than in previous years, when top aides had to dress for the West Wing event because they were so close to their deadline.

The White House also sought to ensure Jost spread his criticism across the political spectrum and shared those concerns with Kelly O’Donnell, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association and senior White House correspondent for NBC News.

“Our dinner entertainment is most successful when it is aimed at both parties and the national media,” O’Donnell told CNN. “That was a repeated part of our behind-the-scenes discussions this year at every step of the planning. That is the goal of the WHCA every year.”

Bending Biden’s sense of humor

Biden has made fun of Trump in recent weeks, poking fun at his hair, the falling stock price of his social media company and his Trump-branded Bibles to take some light on the coverage the former president is receiving during his criminal trial . .

“I haven’t had a chance to look at the lawsuits because I’ve been campaigning,” Biden told supporters at a campaign reception in New York on Thursday.

Although Biden is increasingly using comedy to go after Trump, his default rhetorical style is usually not about looking for a punchline.

“He’s used the phrase ‘No joke, folks’ more times than he’s told actual jokes,” said a former aide.

When it comes time to deliver a comedy speech, writing it is typically a group affair, with jokes submitted from different parts of Biden’s work. Katzenberg in particular urged Biden to be more self-deprecating about his age.

Staffers – even those outside the speechwriting team – submit joke ideas, some of which make the speech and some of which are discarded.

Biden, while vice president, also sought outside help for comedic speeches he gave at the annual Gridiron dinner and in other light-hearted settings. Among those Biden turned to was Jon Macks, a top writer on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” who has also written guest material for dozens of Oscar ceremonies. One person involved in the process when Biden was vice president recalled a submission from Seth Meyers, then the head writer of “Saturday Night Live.”

Political consequences of previous dinners

Although the dinners are intended to be light-hearted affairs, Biden has been alternately funny and serious during previous speeches, underscoring the broad political ramifications the event could have.

When Trump attended the 2011 dinner as a guest, President Barack Obama mocked the then-reality TV star, mocking the baseless and false “birther” conspiracy theory that Trump had promoted, as well as his time on “The Apprentice ‘.

“You didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey,” Obama said, joking about Trump’s experience with difficult situations. “And these are the kinds of decisions that keep me up at night.”

Obama said that just before attending the dinner, this line had given the green light for the raid that would lead to the death of Osama bin Laden. Many have speculated that Obama’s treatment of Trump at the 2011 dinner inspired the latter to run for president. Trump did not attend the dinner while in office.

When asked before the weekend whether Biden was looking forward to the dinner or dreading it, a senior adviser emphasized to CNN that the president is enjoying the event because he enjoys spending time with reporters.

But the adviser quickly added: “I don’t think he would ever admit it.”

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

The CNN Wire
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