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‘Running against a 6-year-old’: Biden lets Trump jokes fly at annual roast

JASON ANDREW / NEW YORK TIMES
                                The Creative Artists Agency’s party at La Grande Boucherie in Washington was crowded Friday. Parties surrounding Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner have made April a high point of the Washington social calendar.
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JASON ANDREW / NEW YORK TIMES

The Creative Artists Agency’s party at La Grande Boucherie in Washington was crowded Friday. Parties surrounding Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner have made April a high point of the Washington social calendar.

WASHINGTON >> President Joe Biden didn’t waste time.

Just minutes into his speech at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday, Biden launched into the issues dominating the 2024 election, including his age and former President Donald Trump’s hush-money trial in New York.

“The 2024 election’s in full swing and yes, age is an issue,” Biden said in a roughly 10-minute speech. “I’m a grown man running against a 6-year-old.”

“Donald has had a few tough days lately. You might call it ‘stormy’ weather,” Biden said, an oblique reference to Stormy Daniels, a porn actor who claims to have had sex with Trump in 2006 and received a hush-money payment in the days before the 2016 election, a deal at the center of his New York trial.

The comments, even as part of a roast, were notable given Biden has forbidden his aides from talking publicly about Trump’s legal troubles. But they also came as Biden has ramped up his attacks on Trump, sharpening the split-screen between a president on the campaign trail and a former president spending his days in a courtroom.

The annual dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel provided a break to journalists and government officials from their normal jousting for a night of glitz and gossip in celebration of the free press. Biden, who has held fewer news conferences than his predecessors, extended his roast to the journalists gathered for the dinner.

“Some of you complained that I don’t take enough of your questions,” Biden said. “No comment.”

“The New York Times issued a statement blasting me for ‘actively and effectively avoiding independent journalists,’” Biden said. “Hey, if that’s what it takes to get The New York Times to say I’m active and effective, I’m for it.”

Outside the gates of the Washington Hilton, however, outrage over Biden’s support for Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip was evident.

As journalists and politicians arrived at the hotel, many were swarmed by pro-Palestinian protesters chanting, “Shame on you!” Other protesters wearing press vests with the names of more than 100 Palestinian journalists who have been killed in Gaza lay down in front of the dinner venue.

“By putting our human bodies on the street, we create a little discomfort” for the journalists attending the event, said Hazami Barmada, an organizer of the protest.

Inside the hotel ballroom, many journalists wore pins reading “Free Evan” to raise awareness of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained in Russia since March 2023 — wrongfully, according to the U.S. government.

Kelly O’Donnell, a senior White House reporter for NBC News who is also president of the correspondents’ association, used her remarks to call attention to journalists who have been captured or killed while doing their jobs, including Gershkovich; Austin Tice, who was kidnapped while reporting in Syria; and reporters who have been killed in Gaza.

“Our profession can be perilous,” O’Donnell said. “Since October, about 100 journalists have been killed, most of those deaths in Gaza.”

O’Donnell also said the association had wanted to choose both a writer and a comedian when it came to their host this year. Colin Jost, the co-anchor of “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” — and a former reporter for the Staten Island Advance — spent roughly 23 minutes poking fun at the president.

But Jost’s speech was relatively light, even supportive of Biden. He ended it by noting that his grandfather, who recently died, had voted for Biden in the last election.

“The reason he voted for you is because you’re a decent man,” Jost said.

Still, Jost didn’t miss an opportunity to needle the president over his poll numbers.

“My ‘Weekend Update’ co-anchor, Michael Che, was going to join me here tonight — but in solidarity with President Biden I decided to lose all my Black support,” Jost said, referring to polling that has shown Biden struggling with Black voters.

Over seared petit filet mignon, celebrities and journalists also had a chance to catch those setting policy that will impact Americans for years to come. Lester Holt, the anchor of NBC News, sat next to Jeffrey Zients, the White House chief of staff, who made sure to stand up and speak briefly with the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Not everyone was in a tuxedo or dress — Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., showed up wearing a white, hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with a bow-tie design on its front.

Hollywood was well represented at the dinner, with actress Scarlett Johansson, who is married to Jost, sitting up front. Popular cable news anchors dined with actors Jon Hamm and Sean Penn, among others.

Before making their way to their seats, politicians like Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, and Gov. J.B. Pritkzer of Chicago held court with guests as Biden campaign officials talked about recent polls showing Biden cutting into Trump’s lead.

Biden, too, sounded emboldened. While he rarely mentioned Trump by name early in his presidency, he has aggressively taunted him as of late and kept it going Saturday.

“Did you hear what Donald said about the major Civil War battle?” Biden said. “Gettysburg. Wow. Trump’s speech was so embarrassing, the statue of Robert E. Lee surrendered again.”

“Age is the only thing we have in common,” Biden, 81, said of Trump, 77. “My vice president actually endorses me,” Biden said, referring to former Vice President Mike Pence’s decision not to endorse Trump.

Biden also used his speech at the dinner to warn about his political opponent’s threats on democracy — increasingly a focus of his message to voters.

“Focus on what’s actually at stake,” Biden said. “The stakes couldn’t be higher.”

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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