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Trump zaps first lady Melania at Gridiron Club dinner

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Saturday, March 3, 2018, to board Marine One for a short trip to the White House. | AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Sunday morning tweeted that the Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner the night before was “great fun,” but I don’t think it will mean much when it comes to his ongoing attacks on the press and his attempts to delegitimize news outlets he does not like.

After all, just hours before making his debut as president at a Washington press dinner, Trump tweeted, “Mainstream Media in U.S. is being mocked all over the world. They’ve gone CRAZY!”

Trump was the closing speaker at the 133rd annual Gridiron dinner, a fancy affair with men in white tie and tails and women in gowns.

OPINION

I am a member of the club. The Gridiron Club has invited every president to the dinner since 1885. Every president but Grover Cleveland has come to at least one dinner.

First lady Melania Trump was with her husband at the head table as well as Vice President Mike Pence, his wife and eight cabinet members, including embattled Attorney General Jeff Session.

“Attorney General Sessions is here with us tonight. … I offered him a ride over, and he recused himself,” zinged Trump.

Also at the head table: daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, both White House advisers.

Trump was late, he quipped, “because Jared could not get through security. … Ivanka, you’ve got to do something.” The joke was based on Kushner’s recent controversial security clearance downgrade.

Trump spoke for 33 minutes, a mix of what seemed prepared zingers, insults – good natured and otherwise – and what came off as rambling comments.

A quip that drew some groans: “So many people have been leaving the White House. It’s actually been exciting and invigorating … I like turnover. It really is good.

“Now the question everyone keeps asking is, ‘Who’s going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller or Melania?”’

Turning toward the first lady, Trump, aware that the line did not get the reception he expected, asked her if that was “terrible honey? But you love me, right?”

Mrs. Trump shrugged.

Some context here: The first part of Trump’s quip was based on a week at the White House that was chaotic beyond the usual chaos.

What perhaps earned the groans was the joking suggestion he made that the first lady might leave him, coming as adult-film star Stormy Daniels has been talking about an alleged affair she had with Trump in 2006.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas spoke on behalf of the Republicans. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu represented Democrats.

The evening featured club members performing in musical skits lampooning key figures in the White House, Congress and politics. Everything was on the record. By tradition, the Gridiron dinner is not televised.

Trump made some news – it’s not clear it was intended – when he said, “I won’t rule out direct talks with (North Korea’s) Kim Jong Un.”

MORE TRUMP LINES

Political humor is often self-deprecating, and Trump tried his hand in this unfamiliar territory.

“My staff was concerned heading into this dinner that I couldn’t do self-deprecating humor. They were worried about it. They said, ‘Can you do it?’ And I told them not to worry. Nobody does self-deprecating humor better than I do.”

Trump took note that U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) left his State of the Union speech early. My reporting on this: Gutierrez did not walk out in protest. He departed early because he had a TV interview.

The joke: Trump said his State of the Union was “actually extraordinary. One of the best ever. In fact, Luis Gutierrez was so overcome with emotion at how good this particular speech was that he had to leave the chamber. He left and wept.”

Trump took aim too far at U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who has been calling for Trump’s impeachment. He was mean, not funny. “That’s all she knows how to say … She has to immediately take an IQ test.”

The president turned to accusations that he is trying to undermine the U.S. democracy: “I have great respect for the various branches of government: the executive, the legislative, the judicial – very important – and last, Fox News.”

OBSERVATIONS

… Before Trump spoke, White House staffers at the dinner told me he had scripted remarks but could not guarantee he would stick to them …

After Trump left, Ivanka and Jared stayed around and mingled …

… Chatting briefly with Sessions at the pre-dinner reception, I was struck about how upbeat he seemed even as Trump would rather he exit …

… Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – who tapped Robert Mueller to be special counsel to steer the Russia probe –was at the Gridiron and stuck around for the after party.