Monday 23 April 2018

Barack Obama gives final White House Correspondents' Dinner speech as president

Barack Obama speaks at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner (AP)
Barack Obama speaks at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner (AP)

Barack Obama described being greeted by Prince George in his pyjamas as a "slap in the face" during his last speech as US President at the star-studded White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Mr Obama was in an ebullient mood during the dinner and drew laughs from the ballroom filled with journalists, politicians and celebrities, saying: "Last week Prince George showed up to our meeting in his bathrobe. That was a slap in the face."

It was Mr Obama's eighth appearance at the event and his last as president.

He said: "If this material works well, I'm going to use it at Goldman Sachs next year."

"Earn me some serious Tubmans," he added, in reference to African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman who it was announced last month would become the first black person to appear on US currency.

Mr Obama continued: "Eight years ago I said it was time to change the tone of our politics. In hindsight, I clearly should have been more specific."

And he acknowledged that the years had taken their toll. "I'm grey, grizzled ... counting down the days to my death panel."

But he pointed out that his approval ratings are up. "The last time I was this high I was trying to decide on my major," he said.

When he said he could not explain his rise in popularity, two photographs of Republican presidential nomination candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz appeared on ballroom screens.

Mr Obama took a few more swipes at the presidential race, saying: "Next year at this time someone else will be standing here in this very spot, and it's anyone's guess who she will be."

After calling presidential candidate Bernie Sanders the bright new face of the Democratic Party, Mr Obama compared the slogan "Feel the Bern" with the one he said was his rival Hillary Clinton's "Trudge Up the Hill".

In further reference to the Republican race he said: "Guests were asked to check whether they wanted steak or fish, and instead a whole bunch of you wrote in (Republican House of Representative speaker) Paul Ryan."

Mr Obama said of Mr Trump: "He has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world - Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan."

He added: "And there's one area where Donald's experience could be invaluable, and that's closing Guantanamo - because Trump knows a thing or two about running waterfront properties into the ground."

On a more serious note, the president thanked the White House press corps and praised a free press.

He finished his speech saying: "I just have two more words to say: Obama out," before holding his microphone out in front of him and dropping it.

A tongue-in-cheek video tribute to Mr Obama's seven-plus years in office was played before his speech containing highlights of verbal gaffes including his his reference to "57 states" and misspelling of "rspect".

Comedian Larry Wilmore, the evening's professional entertainment, said: "It's not easy to follow the president."

He went on to prove his point with a number of jokes that received a mixed reaction from audience members, some of which were greeted with a combination of laughter and groans.

Mr Wilmore said to the president: "You came in here looking like Denzel, now you're going out looking like Grady from Sanford And Son."

The Washington Hilton ballroom was packed with famous faces. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders joined vice president Joe Biden, secretary of state John Kerry and other government officials. Also on hand were Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Mr Trump, a regular at the event in recent years, was absent but his son and daughter-in-law, Donald Jr and Vanessa Trump, were spotted on the red carpet.

Helen Mirren, Jared Leto, Bryan Cranston, Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Rachel McAdams and Tom Hiddleston were in attendance.

Proceeds from the dinner go toward journalism scholarships and reporting awards.

Press Association

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