Biden to deliver remarks at White House Correspondents’ Dinner
By Maegan Vazquez, CNN
President Joe Biden is expected to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday, marking his first appearance at the crowded Washington event since taking office.
The Saturday night dinner, which will take place inside the Washington Hilton and will host more than 2,500 guests, is back with a bang after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The program for the event will be hosted by “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah and will feature Biden delivering comedic remarks. The White House Correspondents Association, which hosts the annual black tie event, will honor several journalists for their contributions.
Biden’s appearance will be the first time a US president has attended the dinner in six years.
Inside the gala, negative Covid-19 tests will be required for entry and masks will be voluntary — just as they are in most of Washington.
But there are growing concerns that Saturday night’s event could lead to Covid cases among revelers, after dozens of attendees – including some of Biden’s cabinet officials – who attended another party in Washington, the Gridiron Dinner, tested positive weeks ago.
Covid cases in Washington are now stable after rising following the decline of the wave of the Omicron variant, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, decided to withdraw from Saturday’s dinner after a personal assessment risks.
“In general, the risk is low, but I made a personal assessment. I’m 81 and if I get infected I have a much higher risk,” Fauci said earlier this week.
Saturday’s event also comes after two senior Biden officials recently tested positive for Covid-19.
Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive on Tuesday and remains asymptomatic. And the White House’s top communications official, Kate Bedingfield, tested positive on Friday and is showing mild symptoms. The president was not considered a close contact in either case.
But Biden’s decision to continue to attend the dinner, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week, is “a risk assessment and a decision he made on a personal basis.” And Biden intends to go, she says, to express his support for a free press. First Lady Jill Biden is also expected to be still present.
The White House said the president will take extra precautions to avoid catching Covid-19, including skipping the meal portion of the schedule. Biden will also “likely” wear a mask when not delivering the speech, Psaki said on Friday. He will be at dinner for about 90 minutes and will sit on the stage, away from the crowded dining room, and will not attend receptions before or after.
Biden last tested negative for Covid-19 on Thursday.
Adjusting the tone of Biden’s comedy set
The president has a rare chance that his comedic chops will shine on Saturday night when he delivers a dinner address, but the opportunity arguably comes at a difficult time for the nation of laughter.
The economic recovery from Covid-19 stumbled in the first quarter of 2022, with figures this week revealing that gross domestic product shrank at an annual rate of 1.4% in the first three months of the year – marking the worst quarter for US economy since spring 2020. Russia continues to wage war on Ukraine. And as his party heads into a all-important midterm season, Biden’s approval rating has stagnated – with a recent CNN poll on Biden’s handling of the presidency revealing 41% of Americans approve of the job. he does, with 54% disapproving.
The speech also comes at a time when the political environment in the United States remains extremely polarized, arguably more divided than in 2016 – the last time a president gave a speech at the dinner.
Biden’s speech has been in the works for a few weeks, officials said, and was not finished Friday. But early in the writing process, the president told his team that he envisioned a speech that went beyond a mere amalgamation of single sentences, jokes and gags.
Jokes about himself, the press and the GOP are expected, but Biden also intends to use the appearance to loudly assert his belief in a free press after his predecessor – who skipped the annual dinner throughout his tenure – called journalists “enemies of the people.”
The White House found a long list of jokes among its staff to create Saturday night’s set. Officials said Chief of Staff Ron Klain, members of the communications team and others inside the White House sent jokes to Biden speechwriters for review. Rob Flaherty, the director of digital strategy, and Dan Cluchey, a senior speechwriter — both considered among Biden’s funniest employees — sent in material.
Biden should do a few rehearsals of his speech to get a feel for the delivery and timing, a person familiar with the matter said.
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia company. All rights reserved.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Ariel Edwards-Levy contributed to this report.