WASHINGTON – President Bush poked fun at his potential successors Saturday night, expressing surprise that none of them were in the audience at the White House Correspondents' Association annual dinner.
"Senator McCain's not here," Bush said of GOP nominee-in-waiting John McCain. "He probably wanted to distance himself from me a little bit. You know, he's not alone. Jenna's moving out too."
Bush then referred to scandals that have dogged the campaigns of the two remaining Democratic candidates, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, in explaining their absence: "Hillary Clinton couldn't get in because of sniper fire and Senator Obama's at church."
During the ongoing campaign, Clinton mistakenly claimed to have landed under sniper fire in Bosnia as first lady. Obama's longtime Chicago pastor has been criticized for his negative comments about America.
The president admitted to being "a little wistful" in his final appearance at the dinner, showing video clips of his routines from previous years. He finished by conducting the U.S. Marine Band in a medley of patriotic marches.
Bush was followed by Craig Ferguson, the host of CBS' "Late Late Show."
The Scottish-born Ferguson found middle ground between the tepid impersonations of last year's entertainer, Rich Little, and the merciless satire that Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert delivered in 2006.
Ferguson, who became a U.S. citizen in February, asked Bush what he was going to do after leaving office, then suggested, "You could look for a job with more vacation time." The president has drawn criticism for the amount of time he has spent away from the White House during his presidency.
Vice President Dick Cheney, Ferguson said, "is already moving out of his residence. It takes longer than you think to pack up an entire dungeon."
The guest list for the dinner included plenty of VIPs from outside the Beltway: Actors Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, John Cusack, Pamela Anderson and Claire Danes, singers Ashlee Simpson and the Jonas Brothers and author Salman Rushdie were among the invitees. Washington's power elite was still well represented, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in attendance.
During the event, the White House Correspondents' Association presented its annual awards, announced earlier this month, to:
• Deb Riechmann of The Associated Press and Ed Henry of CNN, the Merriman Smith Award, the top journalism award for White House reporting under deadline pressure.
Riechmann, the winner in the print category, won for her coverage of President Bush's trip to Iraq's Anbar province last September. Henry won for reporting on the Bush administration's contradicting assertions that top Iranian officials had authorized sending improvised explosive devices to Iraq.
• Alexis Simendinger of the National Journal, the Aldo Beckman Award for sustained excellence in White House coverage. The judges recognized her for breaking the story about the use of Republican National Committee e-mail accounts by some White House officials.
• Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporters Paul Shukovsky, Tracy Johnson and Daniel Lathrop, the Edgar A. Poe Award for excellence in coverage of news of national or regional significance. In a series of articles, "The Terrorism Trade-Off," they revealed a major shift by the FBI away from white-collar crimes as it ramped up its pursuit of suspected terrorists.
The White House Correspondents Association was formed in 1914 as a liaison between the press and the president. Every president since Calvin Coolidge has attended the dinner.