Obama pokes fun at chief of staff

February 1, 2009 7:08:06 AM PST
President Barack Obama poked fun at his volatile chief of staff in a free-for-all roasting of Washington and its politicians Saturday night. Obama and his wife, Michelle, attended the Alfalfa Club dinner, an annual black-tie event where the capital's political and business leaders give humorous speeches.

After a day where Obama readied a new road map for bailout spending and faced questions over a second Cabinet nominee with tax problems, it was chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who was a target of much of the president's ribbing.

"Now this hasn't been reported yet, but it was actually Rahm's idea to do the swearing-in ceremony again," Obama said. "Of course, for Rahm, every day is a swearing-in ceremony.

"Every week the guy takes a little time away to give back to the community. Just last week he was at a local school, teaching profanity to poor children," according to Obama. Excerpts of Obama's remarks were released by the White House.

Also attending the dinner were Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and his former vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The event, conducted at a hotel a few blocks from the White House, was closed to the media.

The club's sole task is to put on the dinner. It is so named, according to club history, because the alfalfa plant's roots will reach far for liquid refreshment.

Founded in 1913, the club was off limits to women until 1994 when first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton attended the event with then President Bill Clinton.

On Saturday, Obama also ribbed the club's historical roots and exclusive tradition. The club was started partly to celebrate the birthday of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

If Lee "were here with us tonight, the general would be 202 years old," Obama joked. "And very confused."

The president patted himself on the back for the "toughest diplomacy of my life" -- being able to keep his Blackberry.

"I finally agreed to limit the number of people who could e-mail me. It's a very exclusive list. How exclusive?"

"Everyone look at the person sitting on your left," Obama said. "Now look at the person sitting on your right. None of you have my e-mail address."

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