Bloomberg News

Obama Budgets Jokes for Cabinet as Jindal Steals Laughs

March 11, 2013

President Barack Obama, wearing white tie and tails at Washington’s premiere show of political satire, made light of budget cuts consuming the capital.

“Because of sequester, they cut my tails,” Obama said at the head table of the Gridiron Club’s spring dinner March 9, opening with an allusion to the budget sequestration he has ordered. “My joke writers have been placed on furlough.”

This didn’t stop the president from making fun of his new Treasury secretary, Jacob Lew, who replaced Timothy Geithner.

“Jack is so low-key, he makes Tim Geithner look like Tom Cruise,” the president said.

It also didn’t stop him from making fun of Secretary of State John Kerry, who replaced Hillary Clinton.

“Let’s face it, Hillary is a tough act to follow,” Obama said, adding of Kerry: “Frankly, though, I think it’s time for him to stop showing up for work in pant suits.”

And it certainly left no protection for Vice President Joe Biden in Obama’s comedic script for a room full of journalists and government leaders attending the annual Washington ritual.

“His age is an issue,” Obama said of Biden, a potential candidate for higher office. “I had to take Joe aside and say, ‘Joe, let’s face it, you are way too young to be the Pope.’”

Yet, judging from the laughter in the Renaissance Hotel ballroom, the night belonged to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who was widely ridiculed for a lackluster televised response to Obama’s first State of the Union address to Congress and the nation as president in 2009.

Jindal thanked the Gridiron Club for offering him this opportunity “to try to be funny on purpose.”

Jindal’s Night

“They say this is a place where you can come and tell jokes about the president, poke fun at yourself, set political ambition aside and just generally say anything you want,” Jindal, a supporter of Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign for president, said in his stand-up routine -- “kind of like the Romney campaign.”

“Now some people have asked me if I intend to run for president in 2016,” said Jindal, who went on to name the first of the presidential nominating contests. “I have no plans to run. I’ve made that clear over and over again,” he said -- “in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.”

“I mean, come on, what chance does a skinny guy with a dark complexion and a funny name have?” asked Jindal, who was born of Indian immigrants and stood two seats from Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, as he delivered his monologue.

Republican’s Targets

“The truth is, I am too skinny to run. At least that’s what my friend, Chris Christie, keeps telling me,” Jindal said of the heavyset New Jersey governor.

“Speaking of brown, I was hoping to see my good friend, John Boehner, here tonight,” Jindal said of the U.S. House speaker from Ohio. “We actually go to the same tanning salon.”

Jindal paused to take a sip of water, explaining he was “getting really dry up here” -- with a sight gag making fun of a pause for water that Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida took in this year’s response to the State of the Union.

Jindal even poked fun at the name of the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus: “At least I had the foresight at the age of four to change my name to Bobby.”

Obama, too, had some fun at Rubio’s expense, pausing only briefly for a water break and announcing; “That, Marco Rubio, is how you take a sip of water.”

Klobuchar’s Stand

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, delivering the Democratic Party’s jokes, offered the audience an allusion to the inaugural ceremony for Obama’s second term in which the singer Beyonce mouthed the words to the national anthem.

“Did anyone else notice that Bobby Jindal lip-synced his entire remarks?” Klobuchar asked.

Klobuchar also joked about Obama’s first debate with Romney during the 2012 campaign, in which polls found viewers crediting Romney with an advantage over the president.

“I know one thing,” Klobuchar said. “I prepared more for this speech than the president did for his first debate.”

The Gridiron Club, marking its 128th year, is the oldest organization of journalists in Washington, with membership by invitation. The private conclave roasts public officials at an annual white-tie dinner in Washington, with the songs of its satirical skits accompanied by the U.S. Marine Band.

Stage Show

The musical show covered a range of political territory from Boehner -- roasted as “Master of the House” to a number from “Les Miserables” -- to gun control, with Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune singing, to the tune of “My Girl,” “Nothing you can say can tear me away from my gun.”

The skits lampooned retired Army General David Petraeus, sidelined as CIA director by an extramarital affair, and the recently retired Pope Benedict XVI, who had taken to using Twitter, with a song: “Give me that online religion.”

Every American president since 1885 except Grover Cleveland has attended Gridiron dinners. This was Obama’s second appearance since taking office. He also attended in 2011, and earlier as a senator.

The night featured repeated jokes about journalist Bob Woodward’s telephone and e-mail encounter with an Obama aide who suggested Woodward would regret what he was reporting about the president. Woodward, of the Washington Post (WPO:US), was one of the journalists whose reporting about the Watergate scandal in the 1970s led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

“Can anybody tell me when an administration has ever regretted picking a fight with Bob Woodward?” Obama asked. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

The first lady wasn’t in attendance at the Gridiron dinner, though the audience could assume the president was speaking of her as he delivered one of his lines.

“I’m sure that you’ve noticed that there’s somebody very special in my life who is missing tonight, somebody who has always got my back, stands with me no matter what and gives me hope no matter how dark things seem,” said Obama, proceeding to name a New York Times (NYT:US) columnist and statistical analyst who predicted the president’s re-election in November.

“So tonight, I want to publicly thank my rock, my foundation,” Obama said. “Thank you, Nate Silver.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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