WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama had a ready excuse for anyone who didn't think he was funny enough at Saturday night's Gridiron dinner: "My joke writers have been placed on furlough."
Always a target for humorous barbs, the president tossed out a few of his own during the Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner, an annual event that features political leaders, journalists and media executives poking fun at each other.
The cuts that struck the federal budget this month drew another observation from Obama: "Of course, there's one thing in Washington that didn't get cut — the length of this dinner. Yet more proof that the sequester makes no sense."
The ambitions of 70-year-old Vice President Joe Biden? "Just the other day, I had to take Joe aside and say, 'Joe, you are way too young to be the pope. You can't do it. You got to mature a little bit.'"
During a pause in his remarks, Obama took a long, slow sip of water and then said, "That, Marco Rubio, is how you take a sip of water."
Obama also mocked criticism from some quarters that he takes time off from his job. "We face major challenges. March in particular is going to be full of tough decisions. But I want to assure you, I have my top advisers working around the clock. After all, my March Madness bracket isn't going to fill itself out. And don't worry — there is an entire team in the Situation Room as we speak, planning my next golf outing, right now at this moment."
The dinner was the organization's 128th since its founding in 1885. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar represented the Democrats while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal cracked wise for the Republicans.
Klobuchar joked that Obama had aged in office. "His Secret Service name used to be 'Renegade,'" she said. "Now it's '50 Shades of Gray.'"
Jindal took a poke at Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, telling the audience that Romney had warned him that "47 percent of you can't take a joke." Referring to his own prospects for a presidential run, Jindal asked, "What chance does a skinny guy with a dark complexion have of being elected president?"
Political disputes and feuds between politicians and the news media provided plenty of fodder for jokes and Gridiron parodies. There was Obama's sometimes frosty relationship with the news media, the internal struggles roiling the Republican Party, and journalist Bob Woodward's dustup with White House economic adviser Gene Sperling. He advised Woodward in an email that the veteran Watergate reporter would regret his reporting about the forced spending cuts called a sequester.
In prepared remarks to welcome the 650 people attending the dinner, Gridiron President Charles J. Lewis of Hearst Newspapers noted that the organization had promised to keep the evening short, "especially because Gene Sperling said that a late night is something we'd all regret."
With a nod to print reporters' complaints about dealing with the Obama administration, Lewis said he thought he had overhead Obama remark on the way to the dinner: "So many newspaper reporters. So many interviews to turn down."
Musical skits are a tradition at the Gridiron dinner, and club officials released its musical program ahead of the event. Using the Beatles song "When I'm 64," one skit featured a look at Hillary Rodham Clinton's future with the lyrics:
Got a bit older, Growing my hair, Gained a pound or two
Going home to vegetate in Chappaqua, I just want to be a grandma
It was more than a case of Benghazi flu, Still I'll be just fine.
Will you select me, will you elect me, When I'm 69
The Gridiron Club and Foundation contributes to college scholarships and journalistic organizations. It limits its active members to 65 journalists based in Washington.
Except for Grover Cleveland, every president since the Gridiron was founded has addressed it. The club is the oldest and most exclusive for Washington journalists. Its motto is "singe but never burn."
No TV cameras were allowed.
The Associated Press