(“Hail To The Chief” plays as the President enters.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you! (Applause.)
Can we go with the song that we talked about? (Laughter.) (“Born In The USA” plays.) (Laughter and applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Some things just bear repeating. (Laughter.) Good evening. As we gather here tonight, all across the world a powerful spirit of change is tearing down old regimes, decaying institutions, remnants of the past. So, look out, Gridiron Club! (Laughter.)
I mean, look at this getup. (Laughter.) Forget about winning the future. How about entering the present? (Laughter and applause.)
Anyway, it’s great to be here. And I’m glad we’re ending on time because I really couldn’t stay here much longer. (Laughter.) I have to get back to not being involved in the budget negotiations. (Laughter.) My schedule is just packed with meetings that I’m not attending. (Laughter.)
You know, the last time I attended this dinner was in 2006. A lot has changed in those past five years. Back then I was a newcomer who couldn’t get anything done in the Senate. Now I’m a President who can’t get anything done in the Senate. (Laughter.)
But it’s good to be back and have a chance to spend time with so many members of the press. And, Susan, thank you for the extraordinary job that you’ve done tonight. (Applause.) I know people say that I have a testy relationship with the media — but how can that be? I hardly ever see you. (Laughter.)
Come on, I love the press. I even sat for an interview with Bill O’Reilly right before the Super Bowl. That was a change of pace. (Laughter.) I don’t often get a chance to be in a room with an ego that’s bigger than mine. (Laughter.)
And while I know I have my share of critics out there, I don’t focus on the negative stuff. I just don’t pay much attention to it. Most days I barely skim through the comment section of Huffington Post — Daily Kos — Fire Dog Lake — The Daily Dish — boingboing.net. (Laughter.)
All right, I hear the criticisms. I do. For example, I know that people think I’m not passionate enough. That I’m too cool. That I’m too detached. But as I was going through my daily routine — sitting alone in my study — (laughter) — meditating, thinking about how to win the future — (laughter) — I pondered this critique, and calmly rejected it — (laughter and applause) — as thoroughly illogical. (Laughter.) And for all those who think I golf too much, let me be clear. I’m not spending time on the golf course — I’m investing time on the golf course. (Laughter.)
Here’s another criticism I haven’t paid much attention to — we heard a little bit of it tonight — my reliance on the teleprompter. Republicans even tried to take it away from me. And I’m fine with that. As if I can’t speak without a — without a — (laughter) — a teleprompter. (Laughter.) I want to acknowledge a few people in the house tonight. Kathleen Sebelius did a great job, didn’t she? (Applause.)
She does a great job each and every day. In these tough times I’ve asked all my Cabinet members to cut even those things that they care deeply about. In Kathleen’s case, it was her once-promising political career. (Laughter.)
My understanding is the Speaker of the House, John Boehner — is he here? He couldn’t show up, huh? Okay. I mean, we’ve heard a few jokes about John, and I’ve made a few jokes over the years about John’s unusual coloring. (Laughter.) I used to think that it was a tan, but after seeing how often he tears up I’ve come to realize that’s not a tan — that’s rust. (Laughter.) Think about it. (Laughter.) I want to congratulate my dear friend Chris Dodd on his new role as head of the MPAA. Though I’m wondering what life experience could possibly prepare Chris to deal with a town full of blowhards and inflated egos. (Laughter.)
America’s favorite voyeur, TSA Administrator John Pistole is in the house. No hard feelings, John. I mean that literally. Please. (Laughter and applause.) Last but not least, Rahm Emanuel is here — already hard at work on Chicago’s problems. (Laughter.) Let me just be the first to say: Welcome home. (Laughter and applause.) Unless anybody from the Illinois Supreme Court is here — then welcome to Washington. (Laughter.) You know, the day I hired Rahm as my chief of staff, unemployment was under 8 percent and my approval ratings were in the 60s. So, good luck, Chicago. (Laughter.)
Thankfully, Bill Daley came over from Wall Street to take his place. And the senior staff actually seems pretty happy with the change — particularly the new executive bonus plan. (Laughter.) I do have a couple of regrets to pass along. My Secretary of State could not be with us.
I’ve dispatched Hillary to the Middle East to talk about how these countries can transition to new leaders — though, I’ve got to be honest, she’s gotten a little passionate about the subject. (Laughter.) These past few weeks it’s been tough falling asleep with Hillary out there on Pennsylvania Avenue shouting, throwing rocks at the window. (Laughter.) Settle down. (Laughter.)
Former Congressman Chris Lee wanted to be here tonight. But apparently he didn’t know the rules — no shoes, no shirt, no service. (Laughter.) Speaking of Republican exploratory activities — (laughter) — we have quite a few considering presidential candidacies. Of course, there’s our outstanding speaker for the evening, Mitch Daniels. (Applause.) Did a great job.
Mitch, I heard your friends over at FOX News told you that you don’t look like a President. But I wouldn’t worry about it — they say the same thing about me every single day. (Laughter.) I know some people discount Mitch because he’s not — as they say in the NBA — long enough. (Laughter.) But the don’t realize how scrappy he is. I watched him during dinner. He tore into that fillet like it was a public employee. (Laughter and applause.) And Mitch is experienced. Before he was governor Mitch was a pharmaceutical executive and he was George W. Bush’s budget director. I don’t have a joke here. I just want to point it out. (Laughter and applause.)
To all the journalists in case you didn’t know. (Laughter.) Haley Barbour is here. And I want to thank him for working with Michelle on the “Let’s Move” campaign. I do have one thing to clear up, though, Haley. You know, when Michelle said, you need to run, she didn’t mean for President. (Laughter and applause.) I wanted to be clear about that.
Tim Pawlenty is not here. But he’s hard on the campaign trail. To be honest, I think the American people are going to have some tough questions for Tim — specifically, who are you? (Laughter.) And where did you come from? (Laughter.) Which is okay — two years into my presidency and I’m still getting those questions. (Laughter.) But I have to say, as much as I admire Haley, Mitch, Tim, all the others, I’m a little biased towards my dear, dear friend, Jon Huntsman. (Laughter.)
In fact, I was just telling the Des Moines Register, nobody has done more for my administration than Jon Huntsman. (Laughter.) As his good friends in China might say, he is truly the yin to my yang. (Laughter.) And I’m going to make sure that every primary voter knows it. (Laughter.) If there’s a fish fry for Jon Huntsman in Cedar Rapids, guess who’s going to be at the grill. (Laughter.)
Barack Obama. (Laughter and applause.) If you see me on the streets of Nashua, wearing my parka and waving a sign, give me a honk for Huntsman. (Laughter.) The next GOP nominee for President. Love that guy. (Laughter.) All these jokes are in good fun. (Laughter.) They’re all in the spirit of bipartisanship, a spirit that’s sweeping the nation. (Laughter.)
We’re seeing people with strong disagreements get along as never before. You have the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney — working together every day, sharing a host body. (Laughter.) It’s inspiring. (Laughter.) Or creepy. (Laughter.) Depending on how you look at it. (Laughter.)
Allow me to close on a serious note.
As has already been mentioned, we meet tonight in celebration, but also great sorrow over the loss of one of the Gridiron’s most beloved members and one of America’s most respected journalists. For nearly half a century, David Broder set the standard for political coverage. He was fair. He was honest. He was insightful. Nobody worked harder than David or with greater dignity — even as he covered a process that’s sometimes lacking in those qualities. He appreciated the great pageant of democracy like nobody else. But he also understood its deeper meaning. And his passing only reminds us of the importance of the work that all of you do. These are momentous times. We face extraordinary economic challenges here at home.
We have young men and women who are making extraordinary sacrifices, sometimes the ultimate sacrifice, for us overseas. We’re seeing transformative change all around the world. And yesterday we were reminded how tragedy can strike at any moment. Tonight, of course, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan. And I want to reiterate that the American people will stand with Japan as they recover and they rebuild.
But whatever challenges we face and however history unfolds, we rely on all of you — the press — to tell the story. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be in positions of power may have our gripes about how the media covers us, but that’s only because your job is to hold us accountable. And none of us would want to live in a country without that failsafe — without a free press and freedom of expression. That’s what people all around the world are fighting for as we speak. In some cases, they’re dying for those rights. And that’s what many reporters risk their lives to uphold — from Kandahar to Tripoli.
So let us protect and cherish those freedoms here at home, and never take them for granted. And enjoy yourselves for the rest of the evening. My understanding is — although, Susan, you did an outstanding job keeping things on time, that the bar is still open and will be open until midnight. Last I checked, so is the government. (Laughter.) Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. (Applause.)