On April 30, President Barack Obama delivered his final speech at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner at the Washington Hilton hotel and, given the antics from the slate of candidates vying for his job, he had plenty of material to work with. Let's just say that Obama definitely worked the room. For those who didn’t catch his funnyman farewell, Obama’s last White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech transcript shows exactly why many consider him to be America’s wittiest commander-in-chief.
It was Obama’s last chance to tell Washington politicians, press, and politicos exactly what he thought — and he took full advantage. Speaking to the Associated Press earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that poking fun at Washington and the political process isn’t something Obama often has a chance to do, given the serious nature of most of his speeches. Still, in recent years, Obama has taken the opportunity wherever he can, it seems. Who could forget the time he joked about winning two presidential campaigns, or when he offered to give tips on the Iowa caucuses at his last two State of the Union speeches?
But this year — thanks to Obama’s fellow politicians and the absurdity that has become the 2016 presidential election season — the jokes almost write themselves. I mean, just this week, former House Speaker John Boehner called Texas Sen. Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.” That’s just comedy catnip, people!
Still, even though Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, one of the most anticipated targets for roasting, deciding to skip the correspondents’ dinner this year, Obama managed to deliver some serious zingers. In case you missed it, the transcript of Obama’s farewell White House Correspondent's Dinner speech is a must read:
Good evening everybody. It is an honor to be here at my last — and perhaps the last — White House Correspondents’ Dinner. You all look great. The end of the Republic has never looked better.
I do apologize. I know I was a little late tonight. I was running on CPT, which stands for “jokes that white people should not make.”
Anyway. Here we are. My eighth and final appearance at this unique event. And I am excited. If this material works well, I’m gonna use it at Goldman Sachs next year. Earn me some serious Tubmans! That’s right. That’s right.
My brilliant and beautiful wife, Michelle, is here tonight. She looks so happy to be here. It’s called “practice.” It’s like learning to do 3-minute planks. She makes it look easy now, but next year at this time, someone else will be standing in this very spot. And it’s anyone’s guess who she will be (laughter). But standing here, I can’t help but be reflective — a little sentimental. You know, eight years ago I said it was time to change the tone of our politics. In hindsight, I clearly should have been more specific.
Eight years ago, I was a young man, full of idealism and vigor. And look at me now: I am grey, grizzled, just counting down the days til my death panel.
Hillary once questioned whether I’d be ready for a 3am phone call. No, I’m awake anyway, because I gotta go to the bathroom! (laughter.) I’m up.
In fact, somebody recently said to me, “Mr. President, you are so yesterday. Justin Trudeau has completely replaced you. He’s so handsome. He’s so charming. He’s the future.” And I said, “Justin, just give it a rest.” I resented that.
Meanwhile, Michelle has not aged a day. The only way you can date her in photos is by looking at me. Take a look. :Shows photo on screen: Here we are in 2008. :Shows another photo: Here we are a few years later. :Shows different photo with skeleton photoshopped in Obama’s place:. And this one if from two weeks ago.
So time passes.
In just six short months, I will be officially a lame duck. Which means Congress will now flat-out reject my authority. And Republican leaders won’t take my phone calls. And this is really gonna take some getting used to! It’s a curve ball. I don’t know what to do with it. Of course, in fact for months now, Congressional Republicans have been saying there are things I cannot do in my final year. Unfortunately, this dinner was not one of them.
But on everything else, it’s another story. And you know who you are, Republicans. In fact, I think we’ve got Republican Senators Tim Scott and Cory Gardiner, they’re in the house. Which reminds me: Security, bar the doors. Judge Merrick Garland? Come on out! We’re gonna do this right here, right now!
It’s like the Red Wedding. (audience groans.)
But it’s not just Congress. Even some foreign leaders have been looking ahead, anticipating my departure. Last week, Prince George showed up to our meeting in his bathrobe. That was a slap in the face. A clear breach of protocol.
Although, while in England, I did have lunch with the Queen. Took in a performance of Shakespeare. Hit the links with David Cameron. Just in case anybody is still debating whether I’m black enough, I think that settles the debate.
This is a tough transition. It’s hard. Key staff are starting to leave the White House. Even reporters have left me. Savannah Guthrie, she’s left the White House press corps to host The Today Show. Nora O’Donnell left the briefing room to host CBS This Morning. Jake Tapper left journalism to join CNN.
But, the prospect of leaving the White House is a mixed bag. You might have heard that someone jumped the White House fence last week. But, I have to give Secret Service credit. They found Michelle, brought her back. She’s safe, back at home now. It’s only nine more months, babe. Settle down.
And yet somehow, despite all this, in my final year my approval ratings keep going up. The last time I was this high, I was trying to decide on my major.
And here’s the thing: I haven’t really done anything differently. Even my aides can’t explain the rising poll numbers. What has changed? Nobody can figure it out. :Shows photo on screen of Cruz and Trump:
Anyway. In this last year, I do have more appreciation for those who have been with me for this amazing ride. Like one of our finest public servants, Joe Biden. God bless him. Love that guy. I love Joe Biden. And I want to thank him for his friendship, for his counsel. For always giving it to me straight. For not shooting anybody in the face. Thank you, Joe.
Also, I would be remiss — let’s give it up for our host, Larry Wilmore. Also known as “One Of The Two Black Guys Who’s Not Jon Stewart.” You’re the South African guy, right?
I love Larry. And his parents are here, who are from Evanston, which is a great town. I also would like to acknowledge some of the award-winning reporters that we have here tonight: Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Shriver. Thank you all for everything you have done.
I’m just joking. As you know, Spotlight is a film — a movie — about investigative journalists with the resources, the autonomy, to chase down the truth and hold the powerful accountable. Best fantasy film since Star Wars.
That was maybe a cheap shot.
I understand the news business is tough these days. It keeps changing all the time. Every year at this dinner, somebody makes a joke about Buzzfeed, for example, changing the media landscape. And every year, the Washington Post laughs a little bit less hard.
There was kind of a silence there. Especially at the Washington Post table.
GOP Chairman Reince Priebus is here as well. Glad to see that you feel you’ve earned a night off. Congratulations on all your success. The Republican party, the nomination process; it’s all going great. Keep it up!
Kendall Jenner is also here, and we had a chance to meet backstage. She seems like a very nice young woman. I’m not exactly sure what she does, but I’m told my Twitter mentions are about to go through the roof.
Helen Mirren is here tonight. I don’t even have a joke here, I just think Helen Mirren is awesome. She’s awesome. Sitting at the same table I see Mike Bloomberg. Mike, a combative, controversial, New York billionaire is leading the GOP Primary and it’s not you. That has to sting a little bit. Although it’s not an entirely fair comparison between you and The Donald. After all, Mike was a big city mayor, he knows policy in depth, and he’s actually worth the amount of money that he says he is.
What an election season! For example, we have the bright new face of the Democratic Party here tonight, Mr. Bernie Sanders. Bernie, you look like a million bucks. Or to put in terms you’ll understand, you look like 37,000 donations of $27 each. A lot of folks have been surprised by the Bernie phenomenon, especially his appeal to young people. But not me I get it. Just recently a young person came up to me and said she was sick of politicians standing in the way of her dreams. As if we were going to actually let Malia go to Burning Man this year. Bernie might let her go, but not us.
I am hurt though, Bernie, that you’ve been distancing yourself a little from me. I mean, that’s just not something that you do to your comrade.
Bernie’s slogan has helped his campaign catch fire among young people. “Feel the Bern.” Feel the Bern. It’s a good slogan. Hilary’s slogan has not had the same effect. :Show picture of fake campaign poster reading “Trudge Up the Hill!”:
Look, I’ve said how much I admire Hilary’s toughness, her smarts, her policy chops, her experience. You’ve got to admit it though, Hilary trying to appeal to young voters is a little bit like your relative signing up for Facebook. “Dear America, Did you get my poke? Is it appearing on your wall? I’m not sure I’m using this right. Love, Aunt Hilary.” It’s not entirely persuasive.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, things are a little more . . . how should we say this. . . a little loose. Just look at the confusion over the invitations to tonight’s dinner. Guests we asked to check if they wanted steak or fish, but instead a whole bunch of your wrote in Paul Ryan. That’s not an option people. Steak or fish. You may not like steak or fish, but that’s your choice.
Meanwhile, some candidates aren’t polling high enough to qualify for their own joke tonight. The rules were well established ahead of time.
And then there’s Ted Cruz. Ted had a tough week. Ted went to Indiana — Hoosier country — stood on a basketball court, and called the hoop a basketball ring. What else is in his lexicon? Baseball sticks? Football hats? But sure, I’m the foreign one.
Let me conclude tonight on a more serious note. I want to thank the Washington Press Corps. I want to thank Carol for all that you do. You know, free press is central to our democracy. . . Nah I’m just kidding. You know I’ve got to talk about Trump! We weren’t just gonna stop there. Come on!
Although, I am a little hurt he’s not here tonight. We had so much fun the last time. And it is surprising. You’ve got a room full of reporters, celebrities, cameras, and he says no. Is this dinner too tacky for The Donald? What could he possibly be doing instead? Is he at home, eating a Trump steak, tweeting out insults to Angela Merkel?
The Republican establishment is incredulous that he is their most likely nominee. Incredulous! Shocking! They say Donald lacks the foreign policy experience to be president. But in fairness, he has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world: Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan. There is one area where The Donald’s experience could be useful, and that is closing Guantanamo. Because Donald knows a thing or two about running waterfront properties into the ground.
OK, that’s probably enough. I’ve got more material. [But] I don’t want to spend too much time on The Donald. Following your lead, I want to show some restraint. Because I think we can all agree that, from the start, he’s gotten the appropriate amount of coverage befitting the seriousness of his candidacy. I hope you all are proud of yourselves. The guy wanted to give his hotel business a boost, and now we’re praying that Cleveland makes it through July.
As for me, and Michelle, we’ve decided to stay in DC for a couple more years. This way our youngest daughter can finish up high school. Michelle can stay closer to her plot of carrots. She’s already making plans to see them every day. Take a look. :Photo of Michelle doing a Mission Impossible-like drop in on the garden.:: But our decision has actually presented a bit f a dilemma because, traditionally, presidents don’t stick around after their done. And it’s something I’ve been brooding about a little bit. Take a look.
I am still waiting for all of your to respond to my invitation to connect on LinkedIn. But I know you have jobs to do, which is what really brings us here tonight. I know there are times that we’ve had differences, and that’s inherent in our institutional roles. It’s true of every president and his press corps. But we’ve always shared the same goal — to root our public discourse in the truth, to open the doors to this democracy, to do whatever we can to make our country and our world more free and more just. And I’ve always appreciated the role that you have all played as equal partners in reaching these goals. And our Free Press is why we once again recognize the real journalist who uncovered the horrifying scandal and brought some measure of justice to thousands of victims throughout the world that are here with us tonight. Sacha Pfeiffer, Mike Rezendes, Walter Robinson, Matt Carroll, and Ben Bradlee Jr. — please give them a big round of applause.
A free press is why, once again, we honor Jason Rezaian. As Carol noted, last time this year we spoke of Jason’s courage as he endured the isolation of an Iranian prison. This year we see that courage in the flesh. And it’s a living testament to the very idea of a free press, and a reminder of the rising level of danger and political intimidation and physical threat faced by reporters overseas.
And I can make this commitment that as long, as I hold this office, my administration will continue to fight for the release of American journalist held against their will, and we will not stop until they see the same freedom as Jason has.
At home and abroad, journalist like all of you engage in the dogged pursuit of informing citizens, and holding leaders accountable, and making a government of the people possible. And it’s an enormous responsibility, and I realize it’s an enormous challenge at a time when the economics of the business sometime incentivize speed over depth, and when controversy and conflict are what most immediately attract readers and viewers. The good news is there’s so many of you that are pushing against those trends, and as a citizen of this great democracy I am grateful for that. This is also a time around the world when some of the fundamental ideals of liberal democracies are under attack. And when notions of objectivity, and of a free press, and of facts, and of evidence are trying to be undermined or, in some cases, ignored entirely. And in such a climate, it’s not enough just to give people a megaphone. That's why your power and your responsibility to dig, and to question, and to counter distortion and untruths is important now more than ever. Taking a stand on behalf of what is true does not require you shedding your objectivity. In fact, it is the essence of good journalism. It firms the idea that the only way we can build consensus, the only way that we can move forward as a country, the only way we can help the world mend itself is by agreeing on a baseline of facts when it comes to the challenges that confront us all.
So this night is a testament to all of you who've devoted your lives to that idea, who push to shine a light on the truth every single day. So I want to close my final White House Correspondent's Dinner by just saying thank you. I'm very proud of what you've done. It has been an honor and a privilege to work side by side with you tot strengthen our democracy.
And with that I just have two more words to say — Oh Bama!
Hosted by the White House Correspondents’ Association — the organization that represents the White House press corps — the proceeds from the annual correspondents’ dinner go toward scholarships and awards for aspiring journalists and those who excel in the field. Larry Wilmore, host of Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show was the host entertainer for the evening, and more than 2,700 politicians, members of the press, celebrities, and other luminaries were in attendance, according to the C-SPAN live broadcast.
In past years, Obama has described it as “Washington celebrating itself.” And while that might be true, this year it was also the last chance for Obama to help Washington to laugh at itself. He’s been great at it every year, and 2016 was no exception.