WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump joked about impeachment, Jared Kushner’s security clearance and Melania Trump leaving him as he attended his first Gridiron Club dinner, a highly formal and traditional event full of the news media he often dubs “fake news.”
The event at the Renaissance Washington — with men in white ties and women in evening gowns — is more insider-ish and less high-profile than the celebrity filled White House Correspondents Association dinner, slated for April 28. Asked by Variety whether he planned to attend that dinner, Trump said, “We haven’t decided yet. Very soon.”
Before an audience that included Jared and Ivanka Trump, a number of cabinet secretaries and Vice President Mike Pence, Trump spent about a half-hour telling jokes, riffing on the news media, getting jabs in at potential 2020 opponents, bashing Democrats on DACA and even making a bit of news. He said that North Korea had called up and asked to begin talks but he told them that they have to “denuke” first.
He also joked about the situation, saying that he would not rule out talks with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, but Kim faced “the risk of dealing with a madman. That’s his concern, not mine.”
Trump said that his staff worried how well he would do with self-deprecating humor.
“I told them not to worry — nobody can do self-deprecating humor better than I can.”
A number of his quips made fun of the atmosphere in the West Wing after a chaotic week, what with more staff departures and rumors of more to come.
“It’s been really another calm week at the White House,” he quipped. “We finally have it running like a fine-tuned machine.”
He was joined on the dais by his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, and the most controversial joke of the evening involved her.
“I like turnover. I like chaos. It really is good. Now the question everybody keeps asking is, ‘Who is going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller or Melania?”
There was laughs, and a lot of oohs.
“That’s terrible. That is terrible.” He turned to his wife and said, “You love me?” Then, he said, “I won’t tell you what she said.” A moment later, he said, “She said, ‘Behave.'”
Jared Kushner: “I would like to apologize for arriving a little late. We were a little late because Jared could not get through security.”
Mike Pence: “The other day we in line shaking hands with men and women. A woman came over to shake his hand and he said, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t do that. My wife is not here.'”
“Mike is doing a fantastic job as Vice President. Could not do better. I really am proud to call him, The Apprentice.”
“Lately, it bothers me. He is showing a particularly keen interest in the news these days. He starts out each morning asking everyone, ‘Has he been impeached yet?'”
Steven Mnuchin’s wife Louise Linton: “When she asked whether or not she could sign the money also, I said, ‘Steve, you got a lot to handle.”
“America has a proud history of Treasury Secretaries who sponsor the arts. Alexander Hamilton gave us so much. Andrew Mellon gave us the National Gallery. Steve has given us the blockbuster movie ‘Lego Batman.'”
Jeff Sessions: “Attorney General Sessions is here with us tonight, and it is a weird deal. I offered him a ride over, and he recused himself.”
CNN: “CNN lost a tremendous amount of credibility this year. They also lost one of their true stars, the guy who got you the most scoops, inside info, and really the very best reporter. There was nobody like him. Steve Bannon.”
Steve Bannon: “We just lost our chief strategist. It’s pretty tough. But somehow, we are still doing great without Omarosa. I always knew, some day you are going to fire her. Is that the worst, by the way? Omarosa, you are the worst. I stuck up for her for years and now I say, “They were all right.”
Oprah Winfrey: “She said she would only run [for president] if she gets the go-ahead from the almighty. All right, Oprah. Go ahead.”
As his routine went on, he slipped in more serious points, including a pointed remark at a potential opponent in 2020, former Vice President Joseph Biden, whom he called “sleepy Joe.”
“I would kick his ass like no other. Oh, would he be easy,” Trump said.
He also took some credit for the success of the Olympics, made jabs at Maxine Waters and Nancy Pelosi, and called out by name CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who was present.
He even had some words of praise for the news media, calling the crowd “quality people.”
Just hours before, Trump tweeted that “Mainstream Media in U.S. is being mocked all over the world. They’ve gone CRAZY!”
Before this crowd, made up of Washington’s media elite, bureau chiefs and White House reporters, he said, “I do want to say this is one of the best times I can ever remember having with the media. This might be the most fun I have had since watching your faces on election night.” He did an imitation of CNN’s John King, working the network’s electoral map as the shock of his win became clear.
Then, he added, “A lot of you cover things very squarely, and there are few professions that I respect more….I want to thank the press for all that you do to support and sustain our democracy. I mean that.”
The Gridiron Club dates to 1885, and its dinner is steeped in tradition, including a number of comedy song-and-dance routines featuring journalists. This year, a skit about Trump’s lawyer Ty Cobb featured dancers including Judy Woodruff and Andrea Mitchell wearing tutus in the shape of handle bar mustaches.
Video cameras were barred from the event, and the rules are no tweeting and texting during the dinner.
Also speaking at the dinner was Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat.
Cotton: “I arrived in Washington as a young man looking for role models. As they say in crime stories, ‘The search continues.'”
Landrieu: “I am not going to lie. I feel kind of out of place here in D.C. More out of place than Mike Pence in a men’s figure skating competition.”
Among those who stayed late for an after-party: Jared and Ivanka, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and, as the clock went past 1 a.m., Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Update: Trump enjoyed the evening, tweeting that it was “great fun.”