Biden swipes at Trump at White House correspondents’ dinner

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Saturday used his White House Correspondents’ Association dinner speech to swipe at former President Donald Trump, taking shots at the presumptive GOP nominee while highlighting the stakes of the election.

Biden cracked jokes at his political rival’s expense and tackled age head-on, saying that he was “a grown man running against a 6-year-old.”

The president said later that age was the only thing he and Trump had in common, adding, “My vice president actually endorses me,” a reference to former Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to say he’ll back his former running mate in 2024.

But Biden’s speech took a serious turn when he discussed the stakes of November’s presidential election, echoing themes of his campaign speeches as he highlighted what he called Trump’s “attack on our democracy.”

The president urged the press to “rise up to the seriousness of the moment.”

“Move past the horse race numbers and the ‘gotcha’ moments and the distractions and the sideshows that have come to dominate and sensationalize our politics, and focus on what’s actually at stake,” Biden said. “I think in your hearts, you know what’s at stake.”

Biden also highlighted the detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been imprisoned in Russia for more than a year on espionage charges that he and his employer deny. His case has been classified as a wrongful detention by the U.S.

The president called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to release Gershkovich immediately, adding that the White House was also doing everything it could to bring home freelance journalist Austin Tice and businessman Paul Whelan.

Gershkovich’s parents and Tice’s mother were among the approximately 2,600 guests at the dinner, an estimate provided by NBC News political correspondent Steve Kornacki in a video that played at the event.

“I give you my word as a Biden: We’re not going to give up until we get them home,” Biden said. “All of them.”

Biden also highlighted the wrongful detention of Americans abroad, including Gershkovich, at last year’s dinner. The president emphasized during last year’s remarks that “journalism is not a crime,” noting that a free press is a “pillar” of a “free society.”

Celebrities who went to Saturday’s event included Scarlett Johansson, who is married to Jost, as well as Rachel Brosnahan and Quavo. High-profile politicians and administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., attended as well.

First lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff also attended the event, which took place at the Washington Hilton.

NBC News senior White House correspondent Kelly O’Donnell is serving as the White House Correspondents’ Association’s 2023-24 president and presided over the dinner.

“Saturday Night Live” cast member Colin Jost was the dinner’s featured entertainer. He co-anchors the NBC show’s “Weekend Update” segment.

Like Biden, Jost cracked several jokes at the former president’s expense, including about Trump’s criminal trial, starting his remarks by saying “how refreshing it is to see a president of the United States at an event that doesn’t begin with a bailiff saying, ‘All rise.’”

Jost also targeted Biden at times, comparing the economy to the president ascending Air Force One’s steps: “It feels like it’s stumbling, but there’s somehow upward progress.” The comedian also told the president that his now-deceased grandfather voted for Biden in the last election because he thought Biden was “a decent man.”

While the dinner, a tradition dating back 100 years, played out inside the ballroom, hundreds of protesters mobilized outside the venue to call for a cease-fire and criticize Biden’s response to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

The protesters chanted, “Shame on you!” as attendees passed them to enter the hotel. They also yelled criticism of the media, and a large sign read, “Stop media complicity in genocide.”

“Every time the media lies, journalists in Gaza die,” the crowd chanted, echoing the leader’s bullhorn. Later, protesters called for the fall of Western media, chanting, “Brick by brick, wall by wall, Western media will fall.”

U.S. Secret Service chief of communications Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement that “attendees can expect layered security and screening at the dinner,” adding that there would be “intermittent” road closures near the venue.

“In reference to the publicized demonstration, we are working closely with the Metropolitan Washington Police Department to protect individuals’ rights to assemble but we will remain intolerant to unlawful behavior,” Guglielmi added.

After the dinner concluded, two protesters holding a sign saying “Stop Israel’s genocide” entered the hotel’s red carpet area as guests were departing. They heckled attendees and were removed by security.

The president has had to contend with protesters demonstrating outside of his official events, with protesters sometimes interrupting his speeches. In response, Biden’s team has worked to make the president’s events smaller and has withheld their exact locations longer than usual in hopes of cutting back on potential interruptions.

Earlier this month, Palestinian journalists wrote an open letter calling on others to boycott the White House correspondents’ dinner “as an act of solidarity with us — your fellow journalists — as well as with the millions of Palestinians currently being starved in Gaza,” pointing to the Biden administration’s support for Israel.

CORRECTION (April 28, 2024, 9:49 a.m. ET): A caption in a previous version of this article included an incorrect title for NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell. She is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, not vice president.

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