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Biden jokes that one presidential candidate is mentally unfit — and it's not him

President Joe Biden meets with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, March 15, 2024 in Washington.
Evan Vucci
/
AP
President Joe Biden meets with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, March 15, 2024 in Washington.

WASHINGTON — The big news this week, President Joe Biden said at a weekend Washington roast, was that two candidates had clinched their party's nomination for president. But one was too old, too mentally unfit for the job, he said.

"The other's me," Bidden quipped.

The digs against Republican Donald Trump kept coming from the president at the annual Gridiron Club and Foundation Dinner, as Biden deflected ongoing criticism that his memory is hazy and he appears confused, instead highlighting moments when the 77-year-old Trump has slipped up, too.

"Don't tell him, he thinks he's running against Barack Obama, that's what he said," said Biden, 81, who also quipped that he was staying up way past his bedtime.

It was the first time Biden has attended the dinner during his presidency, and comes as the 2024 election looms and the rematch between Biden and Trump heats up. The annual bacchanalia, now in its 139th year, traces its history to 1885 — that was the year President Grover Cleveland refused to attend. Every president since has come to at least one Gridiron.

Biden veered quickly into the somber, though, highlighting what he sees as a real threat to democracy should Trump — who continues to falsely claim the 2020 election was stolen — return to the White House. The speech had echoes of Biden's campaign remarks, criticizing Trump as well as too soft on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We live in an unprecedented moment in democracy," he said. "An unprecedented moment for history. Democracy and freedom are literally under attack. Putin's on the march in Europe. My predecessor bows down to him and says to him, 'do whatever the hell you want.'"

Biden then introduced the Ukrainian ambassador, Oksana Markarova, and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.

"We will not bow down. They will not bow down, and I will not bow down," he said.

Biden, dressed in white-tie attire as is the custom, brought his daughter Ashley.

The dinner has a reputation as a night of bipartisan mirth, and was jam-packed with politicians and who's-who of Washington, including Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff, at least eight other Cabinet members, at least five members of Congress, five governors and at least five ambassadors. Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who's in town for St. Patrick's Day, also attended.

Also speaking at the dinner were Harris, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican.

Biden closed out the dinner, speaking also about the importance of a free press. Although he may not agree with everything the news media prints, he said, he understands the necessity of journalism and said he was still working to bring home journalists Evan Gershovich and Austin Tice, one held in Russia, the other who disappeared during a reporting trip in Syria.

"Good journalism holds a mirror up to society," he said. "We need you."

Biden and Harris were seated at the head table along with other administration officials and the foreign leaders, plus Gridiron president Dan Balz of the Washington Post. Seated also at the table were Balz's bosses, the Post's Executive Editor Sally Buzbee and the newspaper's owner, Jeff Bezos.

The dinner was held at the Grand Hyatt. No photos or TV were allowed.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
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