(Trends Wide) — US President Joe Biden criticized his predecessor this Saturday at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, while joking about the press, the Republican Party and the continued existence of the event.
“I am very excited to be here tonight with the only group of Americans with a lower approval rating than me,” Biden said during his opening remarks.
“We had a horrible plague followed by two years of covid-19,” he said. “Imagine if my predecessor came to this dinner this year, that really would have been a real blow if that happened.”
It was Biden’s first appearance at a well-attended Washington event since taking office. As the first president to address dinner attendees in six years, he highlighted his support for democracy and press freedom.
The Saturday night dinner, which took place inside the Washington Hilton and was expected to host more than 2,500 guests, returned in full force after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The event program was headlined by “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah and featured Biden making comedic remarks. The White House Correspondents Association, which organizes the annual etiquette event, honored several journalists for their contributions.
Biden also poked fun at his age, joking that he remembers when the annual dinner began, with President Calvin Coolidge speaking in 1924. “I had just been elected to the United States Senate,” he said.
The president said that when he was elected, Noah on his show called Biden “America’s new dad,” to which he said, “Let me tell you something mate, I’m flattered that someone calls me anything ‘new.'” .
Inside the gala, negative Covid-19 tests were required to enter and masks were voluntary, just as they are in most of Washington.
But there was growing concern that Saturday night’s event could spark Covid cases among partygoers, after dozens of attendees, including some Biden cabinet officials, who attended a different party in Washington, Gridiron Dinner, tested positive weeks ago.
COVID-19 cases in Washington are now holding steady after surging following the decline in the wave of the omicron variant, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s top medical adviser, decided to pull out of Saturday’s dinner after a personal risk assessment.
“In general, the risk is low, but I did a personal evaluation. I’m 81 years old and if I get infected, I’m at much higher risk,” Fauci said earlier this week.
Saturday’s event also came after two senior Biden officials recently tested positive for Covid-19.
Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive on Tuesday and remains asymptomatic. And the top White House communications official, Kate Bedingfield, tested positive on Friday and is experiencing mild symptoms. The president was not considered a close contact in either case.
But Biden’s decision to continue attending the dinner, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week, was “a risk assessment and a decision he made in his personal capacity.” And Biden intended to go, she said, to express her support for a free press. First Lady Jill Biden also attended.
The White House said before the event that the president would take extra precautions to avoid contracting COVID-19, including skipping the food portion of the program. Biden sat on the dais, away from the packed dining room, and he was not expected to attend receptions before or after.
During his speech, Biden also poked fun at Fox News and noted the COVID-19-related requirements to attend the event.
“If you’re at home watching this and wondering how to do it, just contact your favorite Fox News reporter. They’re all here. Vaccinated and boosted. All of them,” he said to applause.