The annual White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) Dinner on Saturday evening, May 3, 2014 at Washington's Hilton Hotel gave President Barack Obama a legitimate excuse to do what he enjoys most laughing, mocking, and criticizing the GOP under the cover of a speech that is meant to do all that and entertain the audience of journalists and celebrities gathered at what is called the "nerd prom." President Obama is not taking too kindly to the Republican controlled House of Representatives refusing to pass the unemployment benefits extension bill or Republicans in Congress in general be it the House or Senate for not passing legislation that is part of his economic opportunity program and would help lower income and middle class Americans. Obama was given the opportunity to criticize the Republicans to his heart's content in a mocking and sarcastic speech delivered at the 100th White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, where he heavily criticized the Republicans for not passing the Senate pass unemployment benefits extension bill.
President Obama's 20-minute speech at the dinner was a mix of making fun of the press and Republicans, with Obamacare, his health care law and race issues the main focus of most of the punch lines. The 100th annual dinner was hosted by Joel McHale, a comedian from the NBC show "Community," whose speech included more zingers than the president could have imagined. The dinner is supposed to give out awards to journalists for their news coverage of the presidency, but is mainly an excuse for the president to criticize the opposing political party without the partisan backlash.
President Obama devoted a major portion of speech to the Republicans in Congress, mocking both the leadership personally and their voting record and legislative priorities. President Obama laughed at the GOP about their midterm election strategy; "Of course, now that it's 2014, Washington is obsessed on the midterms…. Both sides are doing whatever it takes to win the ruthless game." The president laughed at the GOP's so-called women problem closely related to their opposition to the equal pay, equal work legislation they blocked in the Senate on April.
The president found the opportunity to laugh at the GOP House leadership, who are blocking so much of his economic agenda. Obama found time to comment on both House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA and the Speaker of the House Boehner. Laughing at Cantor, Obama joked; "Just yesterday, I read a heartbreaking letter…. A Virginia man who's been stuck in the same part-time job for years; no respect from his boss; no chance to get ahead. I really wish Eric Cantor would stop writing me. You can just pick up the phone, Eric." While Obama insinuated that Boehner is more disliked than he is in, and that Conservative Republicans are the heart of the problem of getting legislation passed in the House, saying; "These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black." Obama was referring to the popular new TV show of the same name, and the Speaker's ever present tan. According to ABC News it was considered the President's best joke of the evening.
The president spoke of attempting bipartisanship in Washington "I have not given up the idea of working with Congress," mentioned a rare moment with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, a Tea Party favorite. Obama however admitted the difficulty, that "Washington seems more dysfunctional than ever. Gridlock has gotten so bad in this town you have to wonder." For President Obama nothing represents the partisan divide and the inability to pass important legislation better the House Republicans inability to show enough support that would force the Senate passed unemployment benefits extension bill to a House vote. Obama recounted; "One issue, for example, we haven't been able to agree on is unemployment insurance. Republicans continue to refuse to extend it."
President Obama laughed at the ridiculous reason the GOP usually uses in refusing to help nearly three million Americans; they believe the long-term jobless would prefer to live off the government if given the extended benefits rather get a job. Obama however, thinks the only loafers living off of government money are the Congressional Republicans who are not working to pass important economic legislation. Continuing Obama mocked; "And you know what, I am beginning to think they've got a point. If you want to get paid while not working, you should have to run for Congress just like everybody else."
As he did in his weekly address released in the morning Obama thinks that Republicans waste their time voting to repeal the health care law, a law proved successful, rather than pass job bills and economic legislation. The president expressed; "Of course, there is one thing that keeps Republicans busy. They have tried more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare. Despite that, 8 million people signed up for health care in the first open enrollment. Which does lead one to ask, how well does Obamacare have to work before you don't want to repeal it? .... What if they gave Mitch McConnell a pulse? What is it going to take?" Obama took the opportunity to complete his mocking of GOP Congressional leaders with his comment about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY who has blocked much of economic opportunity agenda in the Senate, and whom the Democrats are trying to unseat in this falls midterm elections.
The president spoke out against the GOP criticism to his promise for a year of economic action in areas that Congress will not act and the 20 executive actions he signed since January that he touted in his weekly address and White House report. Obama recounted; "Anyway, this year, I've promised to use more executive actions to get things done without Congress." The GOP leadership opposes the president turning to executive orders, and think Obama is stepping beyond his Constitutional role, into Congress' law making realm. Obama responded; "My critics call this the 'imperial presidency,'" referring to historian Arthur Schlesinger's term for presidential overreach, which Cantor accused Obama of this past March. However, President Obama deadpanned stating that what he is doing is working as opposed to the House Republicans "The truth is, I just show up every day in my office and do my job. I've got a picture of this I think."
Since Dec. 28, 2013 nearly 3 million Americans lost access to benefits, and each week about 70,000 Americans have lost benefits, by the end of the year 1.6 million more Americans will lose benefits. The Senate unemployment benefits extension bill expires at the end of May, with less than a month left, Boehner and the House Republicans will have to pass the bill as is, or a compromise has to be reached with the White House and Senate. If not the Senate or House will have to start over and the chances of any unemployment benefits be extended will be slim at best. With a packed agenda, and only 55 working days until the midterm elections, lines will drawn deeper between the Democrats and Republicans will deepen in a election year where the Republicans are close to regaining control of the Senate.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.