He noted no president had attended the event since Barack Obama did in 2016. The event was canceled for two years because of COVID-19, and Trump boycotted it throughout his presidency owing to his long-standing beef with the press.
“We had a horrible plague ... followed by two years of COVID,” Biden cracked.
The joke was perhaps the most biting from Biden over the course of his speech, but far from the only one. He also took aim at Republicans, members of the press — and even himself.
He said he was excited to be at the dinner with the “only group of Americans with a lower approval rating than I have.” He also thanked the “42% of you who actually applauded.”
Biden also referenced Fox News’ aggressive anti-vaccine posturing, noting that each of the network’s journalists who attended the dinner were “vaccinated and boosted,” as required.
Biden goofed that “Republicans seem to support one fella, some guy named Brandon” — a winking reference to the coded insult against him that has become a MAGA favorite. “He’s having a good year, I’m kind of happy for him,” he said, tongue in cheek.
Later on, the president insisted that he wasn’t there to attack the GOP.
“That’s not my style. There’s nothing I can say about the GOP that [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy hasn’t already put on tape,” he quipped — a reference to a series of damning recordings of McCarthy in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
But the president grew somber as he warned of the “gravest of threats” to democracy and stressed the vital importance of the press.
“A poison is running through our democracy … all this taking place with disinformation massively on the rise,” he said.
“The truth is buried by lies, and the lies live on as truth,” Biden added. “What’s clear, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, is that you, a free press, matter more than you ever did in the last century.”
He urged journalists: “Seek the truth as best you can, not to inflame and entertain, but to illuminate and educate.”
Comedian Trevor Noah followed Biden with an equal opportunity roast, lashing both Republicans and Democrats.
He targeted Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who frequently seeks to block Democratic legislation. “Whoever thought we’d see the day in American politics when a senator could be openly bisexual but a closeted Republican?” he asked.
Noah also mocked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for rejecting more than 50 math books in public schools, calling it an underhanded strategy to make Floridians so ignorant about math that they’ll be incapable of checking lies about rigged election numbers.