WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama cracked jokes about the government’s disastrous health care policy rollout and mocked political opponents at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner late Saturday.
The annual dinner, filled with insider jokes and elbow jabs masquerading as humor, brings Washington journalists together with celebrities and power brokers for a meal with the president and first lady.
“In 2008, my slogan was ‘Yes We Can.’ In 2013, my slogan was Cont-rol+Alt+Delete,” the president joked, a reference to the technical problems on HealthCare.gov, the website created for his signature health care overhaul.
“On the plus side,” he said, “they did turn the launch of HealthCare.gov into one of the year’s biggest movies.” A poster of the Disney movie “Frozen” then flashed on the screen.
There was also a technical problem with a video segment that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, blamed for the HealthCare.gov debacle, showed up to “fix.”
Cable TV news networks were also a target of the president’s wit.
Obama said that he was happy to be at the dinner, but was “a little jet lagged” after returning from his trip to Malaysia. “The lengths we have to travel to get CNN coverage,” he quipped.
The reference was to CNN’s blanket coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines airplane that for a time pushed all other news off their airwaves.
He mocked MSNBC’s low viewership, then took a jab at Fox News.
“Let’s face it, Fox, you’ll miss me when I’m gone. It’ll be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya,” he said.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is widely seen as the frontrunner in the 2016 presidential race, though she has been coy about her intention to run.
While CNN and MSNBC carried the event live, Fox aired a special on the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives have long blamed Obama officials, including Clinton, for mishandling the debacle.
The featured speaker, TV comedian Joel McHale, did not spare the president.
He praised Obama’s performance, then said that his favorite presidential joke “was when you said you would close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. That was classic. That was hilarious.”
Obama promised to shut down the controversial “war on terror” prison at a US naval base in Cuba when he took office in January 2009, but the site is still open.
Most of McHale’s jokes however were at the expense of the corpulent governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, who was at the dinner.
McHale mocked Christie’s girth as well as a local traffic scandal that could sink his hopes to become the 2016 Republican presidential nominee.
“I promise that tonight will be both amusing and over quickly just like Chris Christie’s presidential bid,” McHale joked.
Christie seemed unfazed by the blistering ribbing. “Listen, baby, it’s better to be relevant than ignored,” Christie said, according to a posting on Twitter by a Washington Post reporter.
Washington reporters - industry names mostly unknown outside of the US capital - shared dinner with Hollywood guests like Lupita Nyong’o, Robert de Niro, Patrick Stewart and TV actress Sofia Vergara.
“There are a lot of celebrities here tonight,” McHale said. “They’re the ones who don’t look like ghouls.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who rose to fame in “Seinfeld” and now stars in a cable TV comedy about a fictitious vice president, appeared in a humorous video along with Vice President Joe Biden.
Michelle Obama and the Democratic and Republican House leaders made brief appearances in the clip.