WASHINGTON--Former President Clinton filled in for President Obama at the Gridiron Club and Foundation annual spring dinner on Saturday night, and he was a hit, with zingers aimed at himself, Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
"So tell the truth. You guys miss me?" Clinton said at the top of his remarks.
Emanuel was not at the white tie and evening gown dinner--this weekend marked the Bar Mitzvah of his son--but fellow Chicagoans White House Senior Advisors Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod were at the head table.
"Look, I know Axelrod from Chicago and Valerie. I know them before Let's get this straight," Clinton said.
"I found Rahm. I created Rahm. I made him the man he is today. I am so sorry," quipped Clinton.
Emanuel's rise to national prominence started when he was a fund-raiser for Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and grew when he served in the Clinton White House.
The club marked its 125th anniversary on Saturday, and, in keeping with tradition featured a show lampooning figures in Congress and the White House performed by club members--I'm one of them--and talented ringers.
Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri spoke for the Democrats and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah represented Republicans. McCaskill, an early Obama supporter, has had run-ins with Clinton and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Zinged Clinton, "Of these senators, you know, one of them has been often a harsh and partisan personal critic of mine and Hillary's. The other one is a senator from Utah,"
McCaskill and Hatch, who is a Mormon--you need to know this to get one of McCaskill's jokes--were willing to be a bit risqué.
"When I went through security," Hatch said, "I was asked if I had a bomb in my underwear. Modesty, of course kept me from answering truthfully." He went on to joke,
his wife, Elaine, "knows me as the original stimulus package."
McCaskill said she gets along so well with Hatch, "had things worked out differently, I could have been one of his wives." Referring to the Louisana senator caught going to a prostitute, she complained that some senators are so literal, "every time I mention that Missouri is the show me state, I have to tell David Vitter to put his pants back on."
President Obama skipped the dinner for the second year; he begged off because at first he was to have been on his Indonesia, Guam and Australia trip. He canceled his overseas travel to work on tallying 216 Democratic votes for health care. Clinton, arriving 48 minutes late, told Gridiron guests that he was tardy because he was on the phone trying to round up votes. Last year Obama preferred a weekend at Camp David to the Gridiron. In past years--before he was president--Obama spoke at one spring and one winter club dinner.
Clinton--who addressed the crowd while he was in the White House, relished the home coming and so did the audience.
Referring to his own health problems--and that of former Vice President Cheney--Clinton quipped about the prospects for the Obama White House and Democratic leaders passing the landmark measure, "It may not happen in my lifetime, or Dick Cheney's but hopefully at least by Easter."
Of Vice President Biden, who slogged through a difficult recent trip to Israel on a Mid East peace mission, Clinton said, "Biden, god rest his mouth...trying to explain what happened in the Middle East with the only two words he learned over there. Oy Vey."
And Clinton--who has worked on obesity issues for years, paid a compliment to First Lady Michelle, who this years took up childhood obesity as a cause. Said Clinton, "and I think it is wonderful that we have two sets of dramatically different perspectives on this obesity problem. She is young, vibrant, thin and fit and then there is me."
In one riff, Clinton joked that Obama razzed him about his not ever winning a Nobel Peace Prize during a phone call. Obama snared one less than a year as president.
"I said Mr. President, What's up?"
""I'm just here in the White House, polishing my Noble Peace Prize.' He said, 'You got one of these yet?
And I said no, no I don't.
"No? Well Jimmy's got one of them.
"I said, Yes, yes, he does."
"Al Gore, he's got one two, I think...
"I said yes sir, he sure does; wears it around his neck."