Pence jokes about email flap at D.C. press dinner

Maureen Groppe
IndyStar Washington Bureau
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Vice President Mike Pence, shown in this January photo on the eve of his inauguration, was the headline speaker at the Gridiron Club dinner March 4, 2017.

WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence joked Saturday night that the most embarrassing part of the recent news that he used a personal email account while Indiana’s governor is that millions of Americans learned he was one of the few people in the country to still have an AOL account.

“My wife said it was good for my image,” Pence said at the Gridiron Club dinner, a white-tie dinner of speeches, skits and songs put on by Washington's oldest journalism organization. “She said now America knows I’m not stuck in the ‘50s. I’m just stuck in the ‘90s.”

Pence also read some of the comments made on Twitter after IndyStar broke the story Thursday that raised questions about the security and government transparency of the AOL account, which was hacked last summer.

Among the social media slams: “Your grandma is hipper than Mike Pence.” Another said: “This is the most I’ve heard about American Online since I last saw the free disks on a counter at Blockbuster. #MakeAOLGreatAgain.”

Pence was the headline speaker at the dinner, which takes a humorous look at the political scene.

He wore a black tie to the white-tie event, which he said he thought he could get away with until House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi asked him to refill her coffee.

Held in the grand ballroom of the Renaissance Washington hotel, the dinner is attended by network anchors, top media executives, Cabinet secretaries, military leaders, congressional leaders, governors, ambassadors and business figures.

The Gridiron Club has invited every president since Grover Cleveland to speak, but when he cannot, the vice president or another top administration official fills in.

President Trump, who has called reporters "the enemy of the people" and will also not be attending this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, spent Saturday in Florida.

Gridiron Club President Lynn Sweet, the Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times, said in her speech kicking off the evening that “we will not and cannot hide the contentious relationship right now between the president and the press.”

“Tomorrow morning, we will be back on the frontlines fighting for access and explanations and calling it as we see it,” Sweet said. “Tonight, though, is also about another American tradition: the tradition that we have to be able to laugh at ourselves.”

Pence showed he was game. He not only poked fun at himself but sat at the head table while others joked at his expense.

“I just got a message from Hillary Clinton,” Sweet said to Pence. “She wants her server back.”

Pelosi, the evening’s Democratic speaker, asked Pence if Trump knew he was attending an event with the enemies of the people.

“It’s okay, Mr. Vice President,” Pelosi said. “People here can keep a secret. This isn’t the White House.”

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who represented the Republicans, said she’s impressed that Pence never needs a teleprompter.

“Maybe that’s because every speech begins with, `Let me explain what the president meant to say,’” Ernst said. “And thank you for that.”

Pence was also featured in one of the skits put on by club members, a parody sung to the tune of the theme song from the old “Green  Acres” TV show.

The duet was performed by “Melania Trump,” in a slinky silver dress and crown, and “Mike Pence,” sporting a straw hat and overalls. (Wait. Was that a slam on Indiana?)

The Pence character tries to convince Melania Trump to move to the White House as she retorts: “New York is where I’d rather stay. I get allergic inside the Beltway. I just adore Trump Tower’s view. Darling I love you but give me Fifth Avenue.”

Pence got in some of his own licks. After saying he was pleased to see Cabinet members at the dinner, Pence added: “Frankly, with all of (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer’s obstruction, I’m just glad we had enough to fill the head table.”

Pence called humor “the great unifier.”

“Be assured that while we will have our differences —  and I promise the members of the Fourth Estate that you will almost always know when we have them — President Trump and I support the freedom of the press enshrined in the First Amendment," he said.

Pence added, though, that “too often stories make page one and drive news with just too little respect for the people who are affected or involved.”

“So let me just say to you, not as your vice president, but just as a neighbor and as a champion of your meetings, that I think we’ve all just got to do better,” Pence said. “Take every opportunity that we have to stand up, to stand together, and take every opportunity to look up a little bit more with grateful hearts for the privilege of serving and living in the greatest nation in the history of the world.”

Contact Maureen Groppe at mgroppe@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mgroppe.

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