Biden jabs at Trump at Gridiron Dinner before closing on serious note

It was the first time Biden attended the annual Washington event as president.

March 17, 2024, 2:50 AM

President Joe Biden took jabs at former President Donald Trump during Saturday's Gridiron Club Dinner, an annual roast in Washington where politicians and journalists dress in white tie to continue a longstanding, bipartisan tradition.

"The big news this week is two candidates clinched their parties' nomination for president," Biden said in remarks. "One candidate is too old, mentally unfit to be president. The other's me."

Biden also teased Republicans who, he said, "would rather fail at impeachment than succeed at anything else."

"They want a secure border but they block it for the strongest border bill ever," he said. "They take credit for one [of the] biggest infrastructure laws but voted against it. And I'm the one confused?"

It was Biden's first appearance at the dinner during his presidency and comes as he enters one of the longest general election cycles in American history, after he and Trump clinched the number of delegates necessary to win their party's nominations this week.

"In the coming months, Kamala and I will be making the case how Americans are better off than four years ago. How we got so much though the pandemic, turned around the economy, reestablished America's leadership in the world all without encouraging the American people to inject bleach," Biden said, referencing Trump suggesting "injecting" disinfectant to kill COVID in 2020.

"All without destroying the economy, embarrassing us around the world or itching for insurrection," he added. "Look, I wish these were jokes but they're not."

Shifting to a serious tone, the president argued democracy and freedom are under attack, a message central to his re-election campaign.

"[Vladimir] Putin's on the march in Europe. My predecessor bows down to him and says to him. 'Do whatever the hell you want.' Former American president actually said that," Biden said, going on to note Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas present in the ballroom.

"We will not bow down. They will not bow down, and I will not bow down," said a forceful Biden.

He then turned to what he called the threat at home, after "insurrectionists" stormed the Capitol over "lies" about the 2020 election. He said "the threat remains" with "poison coursing through the veins of our democracy" and accused Trump of vilifying the press.

"He calls you the enemy of the people. Even as many of you risk your life and do your job. And sometimes even give your life to do your jobs," he said, adding the U.S. is "doing everything we can to bring Evan [Gershkovich] and Austin [Tice] home," referring to an American journalist imprisoned in Russia since last year and another missing in Syria since 2012.

"Let me state the obvious, you are not the enemy of the people," Biden said. "You are a pillar of any free society. And I may not always agree with your coverage or admire it, but I do admire your courage. Good journalism holds a mirror up to a country for us to reflect the good, the bad, the truth about who we are."

"This is not hyperbole: We need you," he added. "Democracy is at risk and the American people need to know."

Vice President Kamala Harris was also in attendance at the Washington Grand Hyatt, along with at least eight other Cabinet members, at least five members of Congress and five governors, according to a program of the event.

It was the first time a president has attended the annual dinner, where cameras are not permitted, since Trump was present in 2018.

In 2022, at least 72 attendees reported testing positive for COVID after the high-profile event.