Obama jokes at Putin’s expense in speech

President Obama laughs as actor and comedian Joel McHale makes his speech during the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Picture: AP
President Obama laughs as actor and comedian Joel McHale makes his speech during the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Picture: AP
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President Barack Obama joked about Russian president Vladimir Putin and issues closer to home as he gave a speech to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

The annual tradition has the president mocking others and himself as celebrities mingle with journalists and politicians.

Mr Obama made fun of conservative television hosts’ talk about Mr Putin’s bare chest, and commented about Mr Putin being in line for a Nobel Peace Prize. “To be fair, they give those to just about anybody these days,” said Mr Obama, a peace prize laureate himself.

The president also joked about opposition claims that he had been born overseas instead of the United States. Looking ahead to a possible successor in office, Mr Obama said it will be a lot harder for Republicans to prove that Hillary Clinton was born in Kenya.

Mr Obama also turned the humour on himself and his difficult 2013, including the deeply troubled rollout of the website for his healthcare overhaul.

First Lady Michelle Obama accompanied him to the black tie event. Joel McHale, star of the NBC series Community, was the dinner’s featured entertainer. Celebrities attending included 12 Years A Slave actress Lupita Nyong’o, plus the film’s director, Steve McQueen, and Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron.

Also attending were some of the stars of Washington-centric TV shows Veep – including star Julia Louis-Dreyfus – and Scandal.

The dinner has often come at key moments of Mr Obama’s presidency. In 2011, it took place the day before special operations troops killed Osama bin Laden. Last year’s dinner was less than two weeks after the bombing at the Boston Marathon. This time, the US and Europe are anxiously watching the situation between Ukraine and Russia.

The correspondent’s association, which represents the White House press corps, is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Referencing the website troubles which dogged the implementation of his healthcare policy, of Mr Obama told more than 2,000 guests: “In 2008 my slogan was, ‘Yes we can.’ In 2013, it was ‘control-alt-delete’.”

“At one point, things got so bad the 47 per cent called Mitt Romney to apologise,” he added, referring to a 2012 presidential campaign scandal in which the Republican was secretly taped saying that 47 per cent of Americans have become reliant on government handouts.

The president also turned on Republican opponents in Congress who are clamouring to repeal the healthcare legislation despite higher than expected enrolment figures, saying: “How well does Obamacare have to work before you stop trying to repeal it?”

Mr Obama also took a swipe at Republicans for blocking his efforts to raise the minimum wage. “If you want to get paid for not working you should run for Congress just like everyone else,” he said.

In a self-deprecating crack at his own low popularity ratings, the president referred to his fellow Democrats not wanting to campaign with him for November congressional elections in a wistful joke involving one of his daughters.

He said: “I did notice the other day that Sasha needed a speaker for career day and she invited Bill Clinton.”