By Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama poked fun at himself and what he called a hard year but aimed his most caustic humor at Washington gridlock when political and media luminaries gathered at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
“In 2008 my slogan was, ‘Yes we can.’ In 2013, it was control-alt-delete,” Obama joked to a Saturday night audience also studded with film and television stars.
“At one point, things got so bad the 47 percent called Mitt Romney to apologize,” he said, referring to a 2012 presidential campaign gaffe in which the Republican candidate said, in comments that were secretly taped, that 47 percent of Americans have become reliant on government handouts.
More than 2,000 guests packed the ballroom of the Washington Hilton, where the capital’s political and media worlds collide every year in lubricated goodwill punctuated by a long dash of glamour on loan from Hollywood. The association marked its 100th year this year.
The president highlighted some of the low points of his administration’s last year, dwelling on the disastrous rollout of the website for his landmark health insurance reform legislation.
“Of course we rolled out HealthCare.gov. That could have gone better,” he deadpanned.
Later he turned on Republican opponents in Congress who are clamoring to repeal the legislation despite higher than expected enrollment figures in the government health care exchanges: “How well does Obamacare have to work before you stop trying to repeal it?”
Obama said he had been feeling sorry for John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives. “These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black,” he said, a reference to Boehner’s seemingly perpetual tan.
At the end of his speech, Obama turned the audience’s attention to a video monitor, which failed to work. Kathleen Sebelius, the health secretary who announced her resignation this month after overseeing the botched rollout of Obamacare, stepped to the podium to try to fix the technical glitch.
Obama also took a swipe at Republicans for blocking his bid to raise the minimum wage. “If you want to get paid for not working you should run for Congress just like everyone else,” he said.
In a self-deprecating crack at his own low popularity ratings, the president referred to fellow Democrats not wanting to campaign with him for November congressional elections. In a wistful joke involving one of his daughters he said, “I did notice the other day that Sasha needed a speaker for career day and she invited Bill Clinton.”
With a reference to discredited reports that he was born abroad, Obama directed a jibe at the conservative Fox news network. “Let’s face it, Fox, you’ll miss me when I’m gone. It will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary (Clinton) was born in Kenya.”
Joel McHale, star of NBC comedy “Community” followed Obama with a well-received routine that had New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s weight as its largest target.
Congressmen and cabinet members rubbed elbows with Hollywood celebrities including Lupita Nyong’o, the Oscar-winning actress in “12 Years a Slave,” along with its director, Steve McQueen.
“Gravity” director Alfonso Cuaron was a guest, as was actress Diane Lane. Television stars included Olivia Munn of HBO’s “The Newsroom,” and Juliana Margulies of CBS’ “The Good Wife.”
“Veep,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus was there with her cast from the hit HBO comedy parodying a dysfunctional vice president’s office. A video played earlier in the evening a showed Louis-Dreyfus in character, asking a real-life Joe Biden, “Are you going to the Snorespondents’ dinner tonight?”
The video skit included health-conscious first lady Michelle Obama sneaking some ice cream in the White House kitchen, House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi getting a tattoo and House Speaker John Boehner skipping the dinner to watch a panda video in his office.
The skit ended with a joke on the Hollywood-Washington romance, as Louis-Dreyfus explains slowly to Biden, “I’m not really a V.P. but you are. I’m an actress from Hollywood.”
(Additional reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb; Editing by Robert Birsel and Frances Kerry)