02-19-2017  8:49 am      •     
President Barack Obama speaks at the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner at the Washington Hilton in Washington, Saturday, April 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama performed his brand of sharp-tongued comedy at the White House Correspondents' Dinner for the last time — wrapping up with "Obama out" and dropping the mic while the crowd cheered.

Obama's performance Saturday night proved he hasn't lost a step.

"If this material works well, I'm going to use it at Goldman Sachs next year," Obama quipped. "Earn me some serious Tubmans."

Obama drew plenty of laughs with his barbed remarks to a ballroom filled with journalists, politicians, and movie and television stars. It was his eighth appearance at the event and his last as president and he kidded about the pains of being a lame duck.

"Last week Prince George showed up to our meeting in his bathrobe," Obama cracked. "That was a slap in the face."

The president waxed nostalgic at times. "Eight years ago I said it was time to change the tone of our politics. In hindsight, I clearly should have been more specific."

And he acknowledged that the years had taken their toll. "I'm gray, grizzled ... counting down the days to my death panel."

On the other hand, he pointed out that his approval ratings are up. "The last time I was this high," he said, "I was trying to decide on my major." When he said he couldn't explain the rise in his popularity, two photographs of scowling presidential candidates appeared on ballroom screens: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Obama took a few more swipes at the presidential race, noting that "next year at this time someone else will be standing here in this very spot, and it's anyone's guess who she will be."

After calling presidential candidate Bernie Sanders the bright new face of the Democratic Party, Obama contrasted the slogan "Feel the Bern" with one he said was rival Hillary Clinton's: "Trudge Up the Hill."

Republicans took most of Obama's humorous broadsides. "Guests were asked to check whether they wanted steak or fish," he told the diners, "and instead a whole bunch of you wrote in Paul Ryan."

Obama said of the billionaire businessman and real estate mogul leading the GOP race: "He has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world — Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan."

He added: "And there's one area where Donald's experience could be invaluable, and that's closing Guantanamo — because Trump knows a thing or two about running waterfront properties into the ground."

Turning serious, the president thanked the White House press corps and praised a free press.

Obama took a few hits, too. Preceding his remarks was a tongue-in-cheek video tribute to his seven-plus years in office that contained highlights of his verbal gaffes — his reference to "57 states" and misspelling 'rspect" among them — as well as light-hearted moments.

Comedian Larry Wilmore, the evening's professional entertainment, began by saying, "It's not easy to follow the president." Then he proved his point, offering a series of jokes about the president, different media organizations and various presidential candidates that often were racially tinged and drew a mixture of laughter and groans.

"Welcome to Negro night," Wilmore said, and added that Fox News had reported that "two thugs" disrupted an elegant dinner, also mixing in critiques of CNN's viewership and MSNBC's firing of black anchors.

Wilmore said the president is showing signs that his time in office has been hard on him. "You came in here looking like Denzel, now you're going out looking like Grady from 'Sanford and Son.'"

As usual the Washington Hilton ballroom was a celebrity-spotters dream. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders joined Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and other government officials taking a seat. Also on hand were Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Trump, a regular in recent years, was absent this time, but a son and daughter-in-law, Donald Jr. and Vanessa Trump, were spotted on the red carpet.

Among the film and television performers at the event were Oscar winners Helen Mirren and Jared Leto, "Breaking Bad" actor Bryan Cranston, "Independence Day" stars Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, actress Rachel McAdams, and "Night Manager" miniseries star Tom Hiddleston.

Proceeds from the dinner go toward journalism scholarships and reporting awards. This year's winners:

— Carol Lee of the Wall Street Journal, winner of the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award for excellence in White House coverage.

— Matt Viser of the Boston Globe, winner of the Merriman Smith Award for outstanding White House coverage under deadline pressure.

— Norah O'Donnell of CBS News, winner of the Merriman Smith Award for broadcast journalism.

— Terrence McCoy of The Washington Post and Neela Banerjee, John Cushman Jr., David Hasemyer and Lisa Song of InsideClimate, winners of the Edgar A. Poe award, which recognizes excellence in coverage of events or investigative topics of regional or national interest.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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