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Mike Pence jokes with 'enemy of the people' at annual Washington event

Donald Trump has declared that the media are the "enemy of the people", but his vice president showed he is still willing to joke around with reporters - and poke fun at himself - in a venerable Washington tradition.

Mike Pence was the featured speaker at the 132nd annual Gridiron Dinner, a comedic white-tie affair featuring skits, songs and speeches.

He called the dinner "a light-hearted respite" from bruising Washington politics and dished out a number of jokes, including a dig at the Best Picture blunder at least week's Academy Awards.

"We haven't seen that many shocked Hollywood liberals since November 8," Mr Pence said, recalling Mr Trump's upset Election Day victory.

The president did not attend the dinner, instead spending the weekend at his coastal Florida estate. For more than a century, every president has spoken at the dinner at least once.

While most of Mr Pence's remarks were self-deprecating, he also chastised reporters over what he considered unfair news coverage, seeming to channel his boss, the media critic in chief, by saying "we all just have to do better".

Most of the night was good-humoured, with jabs at Hillary Clinton, White House leaks and the lingering question of Russian influence in the election.

House of Representatives minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who was the featured Democratic speaker, belted out "don't take my Medicare away" during a skit on the main stage.

Standing a few feet away from Mr Pence, she said: "This president has appointed so many people from Goldman Sachs to his cabinet that there's no one left there to listen to Hillary's speeches."

"Does the president know you're here laughing with the enemies of the people?" she asked Mr Pence. "It's okay, Mr Vice President. People here can keep a secret ... unlike at the White House."

She said she was sorry Mr Trump and his wife could not be there but offered a greeting to the first family - in Russian.

Iowa senator Joni Ernst, who gave the Republican address, said her goal was simple: "To make this speech shorter than Mike Flynn's time at the NSA."

She also noted that Mr Pence was "one heartbeat away from being the second most-powerful person in the country" - behind White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Among the Washington names in attendance were former secretary of state Colin Powell, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and the subject of many jokes, White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

The Gridiron Club was founded in 1885, just after the election of Grover Cleveland. He never attended a dinner, but every president since has been at least once.

Fifteen journalists formed the club and instituted the formal dinner, in modern times held every year at a central Washington hotel in a setting less glitzy and celebrity-studded than its more famous cousin, the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Mr Trump has said he will not attend that event this year either.

Barack Obama attended the dinner three times while in office. George W Bush made it six out of eight years.

AP

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