CNN will broadcast special coverage of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner from 7-11 p.m. ET hosted by John Berman and Brianna Keeler in Washington, DC.
Saturday night’s dinner, which will take place inside the Washington Hilton and host more than 2,500 guests, is back in full force after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The event program will be led by Trevor Noah, host of the “Daily Show”, and Biden will feature comedic remarks. The White House Correspondents Association, which hosts the annual black tie event, will honor several journalists for their contributions.
Biden’s appearance will be the first time an American president has attended dinner in six years.
Inside the party, negative Covid-19 tests will be required to enter and masks will be optional — just as they are in much of Washington.
But there were growing fears that Saturday night’s event could lead to cases of Covid among party-goers, after dozens of attendees – including some Biden government officials – who attended another party in Washington, Gridiron Dinner, had tested positive for weeks before.
Covid cases in Washington are now flat after surging in the wake of the Omicron variant’s downturn, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor, decided to pull out of the Saturday dinner after a personal assessment of the risks.
“Overall, the risk is low, but I did a subjective evaluation,” Fauci said earlier this week. “I’m 81 years old, and if I’m injured, I have a much higher risk.”
Saturday’s event also comes after two top Biden officials recently tested positive for Covid-19.
But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week that Biden’s decision to continue attending the dinner was “a risk assessment and a decision he made on a personal basis.” She said Biden was intent on going to express his support for a free press. First Lady Jill Biden is also expected to continue to attend.
The White House says the president will take additional precautions to prevent infection with Covid-19, including skipping the meal portion of the program. Psaki said on Friday that Biden would “probably” wear a mask when he did not deliver the speech. He would stay at dinner for about 90 minutes and sit on the counter, away from the crowded dining room, and would not attend receptions before or after.
Biden last tested negative for Covid-19 on Thursday.
Editing the tone of the Biden comedy group
The president has a rare opportunity for his comedy pieces to shine Saturday night when he makes remarks at dinner, but the opportunity arguably comes at a difficult moment for the country to laugh.
The speech also comes at a time when the American political environment remains highly polarized, arguably more divided than it was in 2016 — the last time a president gave a speech at the dinner.
Jokes about himself, the press and the Republican Party are to be expected, but Biden also intends to use the appearance to loudly emphasize his belief in a free press after his predecessor — who skipped the annual dinner throughout his time in office — called reporters “the enemy of the people.”
The White House extracted a long list of jokes from all of its employees to craft the Saturday night group. The officials said that Chief of Staff Ron Klein, members of the communications team and others inside the White House sent jokes to Biden’s speechwriters for consideration. Rob Flaherty, director of digital strategy, and Dan Clochey, a prominent speechwriter — both among Biden’s funniest employees — were sending the materials.
A person familiar with the matter said that Biden is expected to do some rehearsal of his speech to familiarize himself with the delivery method and timing.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Ariel Edwards Levy contributed to this report.