WASHINGTON - Journalists, politicians and celebrities gathered Saturday for the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner, a night for President Barack Obama to engage in self-mockery and poke fun at some of his harshest critics.
President Obama took light-hearted aim Saturday night at a range of political friends and foes, including the people running to succeed him.
“It's amazing how time flies,” Obama told those attending the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents' Association Saturday night. “Soon, the first presidential contest will take place, and I for one cannot wait to see who the Koch brothers pick. It's exciting.”
Obama added: “Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker … who will finally get that red rose?” -- a reference to the television reality dating show, as well as announced and potential Republican presidential candidates.
President Obama's comedy routine also included a sly dig at Hillary Clinton, the current front-runner to be the Democratic candidate in the 2016 presidential election.
Jab at Clinton
Noting that some Americans are living in a time of uncertainty, Obama said, "For example, I have one friend just a few weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year and she's now living out of a van in Iowa."
After announcing her candidacy earlier this month, Clinton, who as a former secretary of state, former senator and former first lady is one of America's best known figures, traveled by van to the state that holds an early contest in the primary election season.
The dinner also gave the president an opportunity to rib some of his loudest critics.
“Just this week Michele Bachmann actually predicted that I would bring about the biblical end of days. Now, that's a legacy,” he said. “That's big. I mean, Lincoln, Washington, they didn't do that.”
President Obama, now in office for six years, is a polished performer at an event that has become a celebrity magnet, this year drawing some big names from television, sports and movies to rub shoulders with members of Congress and to hear the president speak. It’s held in the cavernous ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel.
The comedian at the dinner, Cecily Strong of the NBC show "Saturday Night Live," got big laughs on some tough topics.
For example, she took aim at the Secret Service that protects the president and has had a series of recent bungles. She said, "They're the only law enforcement agency that will get in trouble if a black man gets shot” -- making reference to several cases of black men in the U.S. who have died at the hands of law enforcement officials.
Strong also made reference to the president’s graying hair, “Your hair is so white now, it can talk back to police.”
Taking a jab at some media coverage of women politicians, she had the audience repeat after her, "I solemnly swear not to talk about Clinton’s appearance, because that is not journalism."
On a serious note, Obama noted there are journalists around the world who were unjustly imprisoned, and cited the case of Jason Rezaian of The Washington Post, an American-Iranian who is in prison in Iran.
"For nine months, Jason has been imprisoned in Tehran for nothing more than writing about the hopes and the fears of the Iranian people," President Obama said, adding that he had told Rezaian's brother Ali that he will not rest "until we bring him home to his family safe and sound."
The case represents a point of friction with Iran at a time when the Obama administration is seeking with five other major powers to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran after reaching a framework agreement earlier this month.
History of dinner
The dinner, a long-running tradition organized by the White House Correspondents' Association, has morphed from being a relatively low-key gathering of journalists and their sources from around town.
But the dinner, actually a weekend of events, also draws an annual chorus of condemnation from critics who say that laughing and partying with sources is not conducive to hard-hitting journalism.
It also is an event that helps fund scholarships and awards that recognize journalists.
Past targets of President Obama at the White House Correspondents' Dinner have included billionaire entrepreneur Donald Trump, current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the current speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner.
VOA's Mia Bush contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.