WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama exercised his revenge Saturday after weeks of attacks from his would-be Republican challenger Donald Trump, joking that the billionaire businessman could bring change to the White House, transforming it from a stately mansion into a tacky casino with a whirlpool in the garden.
With Trump in attendance, Obama used the White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner to mock the reality TV star’s presidential ambitions. The president said Trump has shown the acumen of a future president, from firing Gary Busey on a recent episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” to focusing so much time on conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace.
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After a week when Obama released his long-form Hawaii birth certificate, he said Trump could now focus on the serious issues, from whether the moon landing actually happened to “where are Biggie and Tupac?”
“No one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than ‘the Donald,’” Obama said, referring to Trump’s claims the same day that he was responsible for solving the issue.
For Trump’s decision to fire actor Busey instead of rock singer Meat Loaf from his TV show earlier this month, Obama quipped: “These are the types of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled, sir.”
Trump chuckled at some of the earlier jokes, but was clearly less amused as comedian Seth Meyers picked up where Obama left off.
“Donald Trump often talks about running as a Republican, which is surprising,” said the Saturday Night Live actor, entrusted with providing some of the comedy for the evening. “I just assumed he was running as a joke.”
Trump stared icily at Meyers as he continued to criticize the real estate tycoon.
The two men found themselves in the same room after an intense week of attacks from Trump, who has piggybacked on the birther conspiracies and even Obama’s refusal to release his university grades to raise the profile of his possible presidential bid.
And the birth certificate was clearly the key punchline for the evening, which typically offers the president a chance to show off his humorous side and a town consumed by politics and partisanship to enjoy a light-hearted affair.
Obama’s presentation started after the wrestler Hulk Hogan’s patriotic anthem, “Real American,” played. Images of Americana from Mount Rushmore to Uncle Sam were shown on the screen, alongside his birth certificate. And then he offered to show his live birth video, which turned out to be a clip from the Disney film, “The Lion King.”
On the serious side, Obama took time to thank the troops for their service overseas and noted that the people of the South, especially Alabama, have suffered heart-wrenching losses.
“The devastation is unbelievable and it is heartbreaking,” he said. He encouraged the journalists in the room to help tell the stories of those who have been hurt by the storms and saluted those who lost their lives while covering the news.
Other possible Republican presidential hopefuls in attendance were former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Rep. Michele Bachmann and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. And stars such as Sean Penn and Scarlett Johansson also were among the 3,000 people who attended.
The association was formed in 1914 as a liaison between the press and the president. Every president since Calvin Coolidge has attended the dinner. Some of the proceeds from the dinner pay for journalism scholarships for college students.
Several journalists will also be honored at the dinner:
— Dan Balz of The Washington Post and Jake Tapper of ABC News, for winning the Merriman Smith Award for presidential coverage under deadline pressure. Balz won for coverage of an unexpected appearance by Obama and former President Bill Clinton at a White House briefing, and Tapper won for revealing that Obama would ask Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair to resign.
— Peter Baker of The New York Times, for winning the Aldo Beckman award for sustained excellence in White House coverage, for stories dubbed “the education of a president.”
— Michael Berens of The Seattle Times, for winning the Edgar A. Poe Award for excellence in coverage of news of national or regional significance. Berens uncovered flaws in a health care plan for seniors that resulted in neglect, abuse and even death.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.