Saturday 18 November 2017

US Vice-President Mike Pence takes centre-stage at traditional comedic white-tie dinner

Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Governor Mike Pence speaks during his debate against Democratic U.S. vice presidential nominee Senator Tim Kaine REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Governor Mike Pence speaks during his debate against Democratic U.S. vice presidential nominee Senator Tim Kaine REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Governor Mike Pence claps as he talks to the audience after the conclusion of the vice presidential debate against Democratic U.S. vice presidential nominee Senator Tim KaineREUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
FILE PHOTO - Democratic U.S. vice presidential nominee Senator Tim Kaine (L) and Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Governor Mike Pence discuss an issue during their vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, U.S. on October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks following a meeting with area business leaders and a short tour of Blain Supply's company headquarters and warehousing facility during his trip to Janesville, Wis. on Friday, March 3, 2017. (Anthony Wahl/The Janesville Gazette via AP)
Joined by House Speaker Paul Ryan, from left, and Sen. Ron Johnson, Vice President Mike Pence meets with Blain Supply CEO and owner Jane Blain Gilbertson, right, during a short tour of the company's headquarters and warehousing facility on his visit to Janesville, Wis. on Friday, March 3, 2017. (Anthony Wah /The Janesville Gazette via AP)

Jonathan Lemire

Donald Trump has declared that the media are the "enemy of the people", but his vice president showed he is still willing to joke around with reporters - and poke fun at himself - in a venerable Washington tradition.

Mike Pence was the featured speaker at the 132nd annual Gridiron Dinner, a comedic white-tie affair featuring skits, songs and speeches.

He called the dinner "a light-hearted respite" from bruising Washington politics and dished out a number of jokes, including a dig at the Best Picture blunder at least week's Academy Awards.

"We haven't seen that many shocked Hollywood liberals since November 8," Mr Pence said, recalling Mr Trump's upset Election Day victory.

Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Governor Mike Pence claps as he talks to the audience after the conclusion of the vice presidential debate against Democratic U.S. vice presidential nominee Senator Tim KaineREUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Governor Mike Pence claps as he talks to the audience after the conclusion of the vice presidential debate against Democratic U.S. vice presidential nominee Senator Tim KaineREUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

The president did not attend the dinner, instead spending the weekend at his coastal Florida estate. For more than a century, every president has spoken at the dinner at least once.

While most of Mr Pence's remarks were self-deprecating, he also chastised reporters over what he considered unfair news coverage, seeming to channel his boss, the media critic in chief, by saying "we all just have to do better".

FILE PHOTO - Democratic U.S. vice presidential nominee Senator Tim Kaine (L) and Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Governor Mike Pence discuss an issue during their vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, U.S. on October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
FILE PHOTO - Democratic U.S. vice presidential nominee Senator Tim Kaine (L) and Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Governor Mike Pence discuss an issue during their vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, U.S. on October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Most of the night was good-humoured, with jabs at Hillary Clinton, White House leaks and the lingering question of Russian influence in the election.

House of Representatives minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who was the featured Democratic speaker, belted out "don't take my Medicare away" during a skit on the main stage.

Standing a few feet away from Mr Pence, she said: "This president has appointed so many people from Goldman Sachs to his cabinet that there's no one left there to listen to Hillary's speeches."

"Does the president know you're here laughing with the enemies of the people?" she asked Mr Pence. "It's okay, Mr Vice President. People here can keep a secret ... unlike at the White House."

She said she was sorry Mr Trump and his wife could not be there but offered a greeting to the first family - in Russian.

Iowa senator Joni Ernst, who gave the Republican address, said her goal was simple: "To make this speech shorter than Mike Flynn's time at the NSA."

Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks following a meeting with area business leaders and a short tour of Blain Supply's company headquarters and warehousing facility during his trip to Janesville, Wis. on Friday, March 3, 2017. (Anthony Wahl/The Janesville Gazette via AP)
Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks following a meeting with area business leaders and a short tour of Blain Supply's company headquarters and warehousing facility during his trip to Janesville, Wis. on Friday, March 3, 2017. (Anthony Wahl/The Janesville Gazette via AP)

She also noted that Mr Pence was "one heartbeat away from being the second most-powerful person in the country" - behind White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Among the Washington names in attendance were former secretary of state Colin Powell, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and the subject of many jokes, White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

The Gridiron Club was founded in 1885, just after the election of Grover Cleveland. He never attended a dinner, but every president since has been at least once.

Fifteen journalists formed the club and instituted the formal dinner, in modern times held every year at a central Washington hotel in a setting less glitzy and celebrity-studded than its more famous cousin, the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Mr Trump has said he will not attend that event this year either.

Barack Obama attended the dinner three times while in office. George W Bush made it six out of eight years.

Press Association

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