WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — Washington is set to party like in 2019 before the coronavirus, when the biggest risk at the annual White House Press Corps Gala was more likely to be the joke that ruffled a lot of political feathers.
Post-pandemic events in 2020 and 2021, White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner Joe Biden returned Saturday night as the first president to part ways in six years after Donald Trump left it while in office.
Comedy is also back, with “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah as the headliner. There are celebrities, too: Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson are expected to arrive, and Funny or Die Comedy Studios is co-sponsoring an after-party. A large contingent of government officials and other prominent personalities also participate in this event.
“Seeing the President of the United States coming back, and dinner coming back, I think is more a sign of a pause in the pandemic,” said Harold Holzer, author of the book “The President’s Versus the Press.” “We are safe to talk to each other again.
“I think this relationship – even if it’s a one night thing where sarcasm is exchanged and people make fun of others and each other – it’s a very healthy thing.”
It feels like a return to normalcy for the nation’s capital, but it is also a reminder that COVID-19 remains a threat, Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive this week and Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top coronavirus expert, is skipping dinner “because of my personal assessment of my personal risk”.
This raised questions about whether Biden, 79, should go. The President is going to finish the meal and will come later for the event. He is planning to go masked if he does not speak.
Biden mentioned the dinner during a speech about Russia’s war on Ukraine this week, saying, “I’ve always had respect for the press, but I can’t tell you how these areas where they fire. are in the grip, how much I respect them.”
“Imagine if we weren’t getting that information,” the president said. “It will be a different world.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s plan to attend “is in contrast to his predecessor, who not only questioned the legitimacy of the press on an almost daily basis, but also never attended dinner.” Trump gleefully boycotted the event and has repeatedly labeled the media an “enemy of the people”.
After a recent Gridiron Club press dinner in Washington, dozens of attendees, including members of Congress and Biden’s cabinet and journalists, tested positive for COVID-19.
White House pushing for abundance of antiviral pill Paxlovid, which has been shown to reduce serious outcomes from the virus by 90% in those at highest risk. Still, Psaki has said of Biden, “We want to be very clear that it’s possible that he could test positive for COVID just like any American.”
That’s because the US is experiencing a COVID case spike from a highly infectious subvariant of Omicron, with confirmed cases rising from 26,000 a month ago to nearly 44,000 per day. Although down from the countrywide maximum of more than 800,000 cases per day during the height of the omicron wave earlier this year, the current figures are likely given the increased availability of at-home COVID-19 tests, the results of which are reported to health officials. cannot be done. ,
The White House Correspondents’ Association said it would require same-day antigen testing for its dinner attendees even before the gridiron outbreak. It has since added a vaccination requirement for participants in Saturday’s gala, which will have a capacity of more than 2,600 and is fully booked.
Despite the latest wave of COVID-19 cases, virus deaths and hospitalizations approaching, or at pandemic levels, the BA.2 variant proves to be less severe than earlier virus strains. Just over 300 people are dying from the virus every day in the US, up from more than 2,600 people per day earlier this year – with nearly 1,600 hospitalizations per day, falling from a peak of more than 21,000 daily in January.
The Correspondents’ Dinner began in 1921. Calvin Coolidge became the first president to participate three years later, and everyone except Trump did. Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon opted not to attend every year of their presidency, and Ronald Reagan, then recovering from an assassination attempt, missed the 1981 installment—but called from Camp David.
“I think it shows that this is a restoration of relationship health,” said Holzer, director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College in New York. “It’s still prickly, there are still tense moments. But that’s okay.”
Controversy erupted in 2018 after comedian Michelle Wolf’s scathing satire, the following year, featured historian Ron Chernow at the event. The return of celebrities this time recalls the administration of President Barack Obama, when George Clooney, Charlize Theron and Viola Davis attended.
As vice president in 2014, Biden appeared in a comedy video alongside the star of HBO’s “Veep,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which caused huge laughs at reporters’ dinners. The White House’s director of speechwriting, Vinay Reddy, and longtime Biden adviser Mike Donilon worked on Biden’s comments for this year, the White House said, tapping into material from people both inside and outside the government.
Psaki had already admitted that they were trying to lower expectations, saying that the speech was “not funny at all. It was a joke.” The president’s attempts at humor, however, can be tricky.
At a 2011 dinner, Obama skewered an unmatched Trump — in his presence — on Trump’s fictitious claims about the then-president’s birth certificate. “He’s definitely going to bring some changes to the White House,” Obama concluded, thinking of Trump taking over his job one day as a parody image of the grand façade of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue appeared on the banquet hall screen showing Trump logo, golden columns, a digital clock and a sign announcing “Hotel, Casino, Golf Course, Presidential Suite”.
It turned out to be prophetic, as Trump was decidedly Obama’s successor – although the overhaul that ultimately brought the presidency did less than stick his name in the White House.
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.