Biden needles Trump on age, mental fitness, finances at D.C. dinner

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After sitting through hours of jokes about his age at Saturday’s Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner, President Biden turned the tables on the journalists putting on the skits.

“The big news this week is, two candidates clinched their parties’ nomination for president. One candidate is too old and mentally unfit to be president,” Biden said. “The other is me.”

Of all the president’s jokes, that one landed best here at the Independence Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt downtown. It’s the annual white-tie affair, first held in 1885, where Washington’s political and media elite gather to watch performances put on by the club’s 65 members and listen to stand-up sets from Republican and Democratic officials — and, of course, to schmooze. The tables filled up with a cross section of more than 650 D.C. thrivers and strivers — pols, Fourth Estaters, ambassadors — dining on short ribs and trying to find a lighter side to the news these days: two wars with no end in sight, mass media layoffs and a presidential rematch many are dreading.

Biden made his first Gridiron appearance as president, taking the occasion to lay into former president Donald Trump — who, despite facing criminal charges and recent civil judgments that could cost him hundreds of millions of dollars, poses a serious threat to Biden as the two men head toward a rematch in the fall election.

“Just yesterday, a defeated-looking man came up to me and said, ‘I’m being crushed by debt. I’m completely wiped out,’” Biden said. “I said, ‘Sorry, Donald, I can’t help you.’”

Okay, one more: “There’ve been some bright spots in the media,” Biden said. “I heard the Wordle website is actually doing news now.”

(A couple of muted chuckles. So Biden added: “Ya get that? The New York Ti — anyway…”)

The $400-a-plate dinner also featured speeches by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). At the head table: There’s the most powerful man in the world chatting up the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos (who owns The Washington Post). There’s Vice President Harris, sitting near a man who looks exactly like her husband but is actually the prime minister of Ireland, Leo Varadkar. There’s Attorney General Merrick Garland, and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, and Ukrainian ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova next to the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, recently impeached by House Republicans.

Ambitious politicians from both parties have, in previous years, used the opportunity to introduce themselves to a tipsy Washington press corps in the hopes of gaining national notice. And at the past two dinners, Republican speakers have made headlines for taking shots at the leader of their own party.

In 2022, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) called Trump “f—ing crazy,” prompting chatter about a potential run for president. Sununu ended up not running this cycle, but he’s here tonight. “Some weird guys in tuxedos in D.C. want me to run? I better not do it,” he joked with another guest.

In 2023, former vice president Mike Pence said history would hold Trump accountable for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by his supporters.

This year’s Republican speaker, Cox, was a perfect fit for the usual fare of self-effacing Gridiron jokes, playing the part of the naive rube who suddenly finds himself in tails and a white bow tie.

“I truly can’t believe I’m here tonight — and neither can you,” Cox told the audience. “It really is such an honor to be at the famed Gridiron dinner. See, they don’t usually let farm kids like me into rooms like this.”

“Unless you count January 6th.”

He topped it off with: “And even then, we had to really push and shove our way in.”

Cox said he got a little help from a couple of colleagues with his speech. Like Sen. Katie Boyd Britt (R-Ala.), who was last seen delivering a response to the State of the Union.

“I also reached out to my friend Mitch McConnell for some ideas, and he said …”

Get it? Because the Senate minority leader tends to freeze up in the middle of news conferences?

The crowd got it, responding with a solid 20 seconds of laughter and cheers and applause. People pounded the tables later, when Cox said he was taking note of the jokes that didn’t work, “in case I ever get asked to speak at CPAC,” referring to the Conservative Political Action Conference. When he was done, Biden was one of the first on his feet for the standing O.

Then there was Whitmer, a rising Democratic star seen as a possible 2028 presidential contender. One of the performers played her, singing along to the tune of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” for a skit in which Whitmer fantasizes about a smoke-filled room where Democrats pick her to replace an “exhausted” Biden at this summer’s Democratic National Convention.

And I am never, ever, ever … going back to Lansing!

Real-life Whitmer laughed.

When it was her turn to speak, she said “the Gridiron has come a long way,” referencing the club that once allowed only men. “But on a night that we have the first woman vice president, and ‘that woman from Michigan’” — referring to Trump’s moniker for her — “we’re still starting with Cox and Balz.” (The Gridiron’s president this year is Dan Balz, chief correspondent at The Post.)

Big laughs and cheers. She set the bar high.

She needled some of those Democratic would-be rivals, such as the governors of California and Illinois, Gavin Newsom and J.B. Pritzker, respectively, for being out of touch with Americans. Of Pritzker, she said he was the “only guy with more gold bars in his house than Bob Menendez,” referring to the Democratic New Jersey senator indicted on bribery charges. “I’m just not sure that a billionaire hotel heir is the right profile after the last guy,” she said in her Michigan-nice accent.

Those Democrat-on-Democrat ribs were too soft for the crowd, but they seemed to like her overall, even if Cox had more guests on their feet. On Sunday, Politico Playbook wrote of her performance: “HOW NOT TO DO IT.”

Whitmer finished her portion on this unsubtle note: “See you in 2029.”

After Biden’s remarks, the crowd joined hands and swayed as they sang “Auld Lang Syne,” arguably the night’s oddest ritual. But it’s a song that rings in a new year, so perhaps it’s fitting as Washington girds itself for the potential of a second Trump term.

Would Trump change anything for people in this room? Let’s ask Sununu, who recently endorsed Trump after years of criticizing him.

“Oh, it’s just great material for the press. The CNN and MSNBC ratings will be skyrocketing as they did when he was president,” he said.

Biden, Whitmer and Cox all had serious segments in their speeches, where they warned of anger and fear in the air, of democracy being under attack, of how important the press is to a free society.

“Everyone thinks democracy is ending and all, and the erosion of democracy and so-and-so’s a threat to America and all that. Stop. Stop. America is in a good place,” Sununu said.

Laugh or cry — for one night, the Gridiron crowd went on laughing.

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