The Republican Party was a favourite target

WASHINGTON: U.S. President Barack Obama mocked his own administration and gave playful jabs at his critics and Republicans at a black-tie dinner attended by a mix of politicians, celebrities and journalists.

The Republican Party was a favourite target for Mr. Obama, speaking at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday night.

The former Vice-President, Dick Cheney, couldn’t make the dinner, Mr. Obama joked, because he was writing his memoir, “How to shoot friends and interrogate people.” It was a reference to Mr. Cheney’s support of harsh interrogation and his accidental shooting of a hunting companion.

The President directly addressed Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who was in the audience.

“Michael for the last time, the Republican Party does not qualify for a bailout. Rush Limbaugh does not count as a troubled asset, I’m sorry,” said Mr. Obama, referring to recent economic steps of the White House and the conservative radio commentator’s public criticism of the Republican party leader.

But Mr. Obama targeted his own miscues as well.

“No President in history has ever named three Commerce Secretaries this quickly,” he said. His two top choices for the position dropped out.

He playfully ribbed his frequent use of a teleprompter and Vice- President Joe Biden’s knack for speaking off the cuff. And about the Democratic Party, he said his administration had helped in “bringing in fresh, young faces — like Arlen Specter.” The 79-year-old Pennsylvania Senator, a former Republican, switched parties last month. Mr. Obama noted that he and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had been political rivals, but assured the audience “these days, we could not be closer”.

“In fact the second she got back from Mexico, she pulled me into a hug,” he said, playing off the threat of a spreading swine flu virus that has targeted Mexico the most.

Mr. Obama also turned serious and talked of the financially struggling media industry, praising journalists for holding government officials accountable. “A government without newspapers, a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts is not an option for the United States of America,” he said.

Proceeds from the dinner, $98,000, will help feed the hungry and fund journalism scholarships.

The White House Correspondents Association was formed in 1914 as a liaison between the press and the President. Every President since Calvin Coolidge has attended the dinner. — AP