It was a Ctrl-Alt-Delete 2013 for the White House, President Barack Obama joked last night at a gala in Washington, one of several cracks he took at the flawed rollout of the health-care law that stands as his proudest domestic accomplishment.
The mistake-filled launch of Healthcare.gov late last year was turned into a movie, he teased -- “Frozen,” the Disney animated feature. And his comedic turn at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner ended with a botched video and cameo from Kathleen Sebelius, the soon-to-depart Health and Human Services secretary who was called to the podium to fix it.
“I usually start off these dinners with a few self-deprecating jokes,” Obama said as he began his round of quips. He then deadpanned: “After my stellar 2013, what could I possibly talk about?”
He found a few things, though, managing to lampoon cable television news stations, House Republicans and frequently himself in a routine punctuated by laughter from an audience that included many of those who cover him.
The dinner has become known as Washington’s “nerd prom,” where Hollywood stars mingle with the D.C. media elite. The black-tie affair draws about 3,000 people and -- while it raises money for scholarships -- it more notably gives politicians and journalists a chance to make fun of themselves.
Vice President Joe Biden starred in a sketch video with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who plays the vice president on HBO’s “Veep.”
Those in attendance included Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, singers Gloria Estefan, Brad Paisley and J.C. Chasez, who was one-fifth of ’N Sync, as well as professional football players Andrew Luck and Adrian Peterson.
Patrick Stewart was there, the former captain of the star ship Enterprise and leader of the X-Men, as were at least three U.S. presidents -- Michael Gill, who plays one on Netflix’s “House of Cards”, Tony Goldwyn, who has a similar role on ABC’s “Scandal”, and Obama, who does the job for real.
Targets of Obama’s laugh lines included Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, a darling of the small-government Tea Party movement who continuously pushes for the repeal of the president’s signature health-care measure. Obama facetiously told his audience he’d actually signed a bill sponsored by Cruz, as a doctored photo was displayed of himself, the senator and Hell frozen over. Cruz, in the audience, threw his head back and laughed.
The dinner is held at the Washington Hilton, a hotel only a seven-minute drive from the Russian Embassy. And Russia -- embroiled in the Ukraine crisis that has sparked its most contentious standoff with the U.S. and Europe since the Cold War -- wasn’t far from anyone’s minds.
Obama teased former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Fox News talk-show host Sean Hannity about previous positive statements they’d made about Vladimir Putin, then paused as another fake photo showed the trio in a bedroom with a bare-chested poster of the Russian leader on the wall.
Comedian Joel McHale, who followed Obama at the podium, advised the president to make Putin think he’s a little bit crazy and match him, annexation for annexation. “He invades Crimea, you invade Cancun,” McHale joked.
If Obama in his day job plans any immediate dramatic action on the foreign front, there was no sign of it. A president who likes to play poker, Obama has learned not to show any tells.
Three years ago almost to the day, comedian Seth Meyers joked at the dinner about where terrorist leader Osama bin Laden might be hiding. Obama smiled along, never once betraying that U.S. intelligence had actually found bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and he’d already decided to order a raid.
The next day, bin Laden was dead.
Obama last night relied on another Netflix series in targeting one of his main political adversaries.
“I’m feeling sorry, believe it or not, for the speaker of the House,” he said. “These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means that orange really is the new black,” a reference to the Ohio Republican’s perpetual tan.
Turning to a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie -- Obama tweaked him over the traffic-jam scandal that has stalled his political momentum.
“Gridlock has gotten so bad in this town, you’ve got to wonder, what’d we do to piss off Chris Christie so bad?” Obama teased.
Christie, the butt of that and several jokes from McHale, was in the audience, laughing along gamely.
Obama struck a serious note toward the end of his remarks, saying, “This night really does remind us that we really are lucky to live in a country where reporters get to give a head of state a hard time every day.”
“We also know that not every journalist or photographer or crew member is so fortunate,” he said, noting Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan and Egypt, where journalists have been detained and some have died reporting the news.