US President Joe Biden speaks at the White House Correspondents' dinner at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. Biden's appearance marks the first time a president has headlined the event in six years. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/UPI | License Photo
April 29 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden joked about his approval rating and made somber remarks about the COVID-19 pandemic at the first White House Correspondents' Dinner since 2019.
The dinner, hosted by the White House Correspondents' Association, made its return after a two years pause because of the pandemic. It is intended as a celebration of the First Amendment -- but it's well known for poking fun at both the president and the press that cover him.
"I'm really excited to be here tonight with the only group of Americans with a lower approval rating than I have," Biden quipped during the event.
It was also the first time that a president had attended the annual gala-style event in six years since former President Donald Trump had boycotted it during his administration.
"We had a horrible plague followed by two years of COVID," Biden said in a joke aimed at Trump. "Just imagine if my predecessor came to this dinner this year, now that would really have been a real coup if that occurred."
During his remarks, Biden noted that the event had taken strict COVID-19 measures as more than 2,500 guests gathered at the Washington Hilton.
"We're here to show the country that we're getting through this pandemic. Plus, everyone had to prove they were fully vaccinated and boosted," Biden said.
"So if you're at home watching this and you wonder how to do that, just contact your favorite Fox News reporter. They're all here, vaccinated and boosted, all of them."
Before introducing Trevor Noah, who served as the night's comedian, Biden said that The Daily Show host would have an opportunity to roast the president of the United States.
"But unlike in Moscow, you won't go to jail," Biden told Noah.
Noah joked that he was honored to be speaking "at the nation's most distinguished superspreader event" attended by celebrities including Kim Kardashian.
"You spent the last two years telling everyone the importance of wearing masks and avoiding large indoor gatherings. Then the second someone offers you a free dinner, you turn into Joe Rogan," Noah told the crowd.
Noah also noted that Dr. Anthony Fauci had chosen not to attend the event because of COVID-19 dangers while joking that the crowd had chosen to attend anyway.
"Dr. Fauci dropped out. That should have been a pretty big sign. Fauci thought that it was too dangerous to come tonight," Noah said. "Pete Davidson thinks it's OK. And we all went with Pete."
Joe Biden announced last week that he and first lady Jill Biden would attend the event, though they skipped the eating portion of the night to cut down on their exposure to COVID-19.
The dinner has been held almost annually since its inception in 1921 -- usually with the president in attendance, who serves as the subject of the night's friendly jokes. Biden will be the first sitting president at the event since Barack Obama's final dinner in 2016.
Here's a look back at some notable moments from past dinners:
Trump skips all three
President Donald Trump, who had an adversarial relationship with the press, never attended a single White House Correspondents' Dinner during his time in office. File Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI
Trump, who has an acrimonious relationship with the press, refused to go to the three dinners of his presidency. A fourth, which would have been in 2020, was canceled due to COVID-19.
Trump famously slammed the event in 2018 after comedian Michelle Wolf delivered barbed jokes at the Trump administration's expense.
"Everyone is talking about the fact that the White House Correspondents Dinner was a very big, boring bust ... the so-called comedian really 'bombed,'" he tweeted.
Wolf specifically took aim at then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who was in attendance, and drew criticism even from some of the Trump administration's biggest detractors.
"I actually really like Sarah. I think she's very resourceful," Wolf said. "[She] burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like, maybe she's born with it, maybe it's lies," Wolf said as a television camera cut to Sanders at the head table.
"... Obama out!"
President Barack Obama speaks as Luther, his translator played by comedian Keegan-Michael Key, gestures during the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner at the Washington Hilton on April 25, 2015. File Photo by Olivier Douliery/UPI
Obama drew attention for his 2015 appearance at the dinner, when he had comedian and actor Keegan-Michael Key serve as his "anger translator." The character of Luther was one Key developed for his sketch show Key & Peele with Jordan Peele.
As Obama spoke, Luther would translate the remarks into an unfiltered assessment of what the president was really thinking, but maybe shouldn't say.
"Despite our differences, we count on the press to shed light on the most important issues of the day," Obama opened his remarks.
"And we can count on Fox News to terrify old White people with some nonsense," Key added. "'Shariah law is coming to Cleveland, run for the damn hills!' Y'all is ridiculous!"
A year later, Obama drew laughs and applause with a literal mic drop at the end of his final dinner.
"It has been an honor and a privilege to work side by side with you to strengthen our democracy. And with that, I just have two more words to say: Obama out," he said.
Bush's mirror image
U.S. President George W. Bush
(L) and his "inner monologue," played by comedian Steve Bridges, wave at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington, D.C., on April 29, 2006. File Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI
President George W. Bush wasn't above poking fun at himself -- and at the 2006 correspondents dinner he invited impersonator Steve Bridges onto the stage. Bridges was known for his spot-on impression of the 43rd president.
Much like Key, Bridges provided humorous commentary on what Bush was really thinking, but probably shouldn't say.
"Here I am at another one of these dang press dinners. Could be home asleep ... but no I gotta pretend I like being here," he said with laughs from the crowd. "The media really ticks me off. The way they try to embarrass me by not editing what I say."
Bridges even mimicked Bush's mannerisms and body language during the speech.
Lonely Clinton's "Final Days"
President Bill Clinton gestures during a speech at the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents' Association at the Washington Hilton Hotel on April 25, 1998. File Photo by Michael Smith/UPI
President Bill Clinton used his final dinner, in 2000, to bid farewell to his eight years in office. The White House, in fact, produced an amusing short film depicting his "Final Days" in a largely empty West Wing.
Several famous journalists of the time made cameos, including White House correspondent Helen Thomas, who was herself in the final days of her 57 years with UPI.
In the video, a lonely Clinton was seen answering his own phone calls, wandering the empty halls of the White House, making origami animals and doing his laundry.
The film drew high praise from the White House Correspondents' Association and many who saw the film. In fact, he later mimicked one of the scenes in the film when he and first lady Hillary Clinton were departing for separate trips -- handing her a brown bag with a lunch he'd prepared for her.