D.C. Power Brokers Cut Each Other Down to Size

From Associated Press

Wrapping up a Saturday night of laughs on a somber note, President Bush toasted American armed forces surrounding Iraq and declared them ready for war if needed.

"Because they serve, our freedom will be secure and our peace will be safe," Bush told the annual Gridiron Club dinner of journalists and their high-powered guests.

With 250,000 troops poised to invade Iraq with the intention of disarming President Saddam Hussein, the commander in chief said, "They are prepared if necessary to remove a gathering danger."

Bush's brief closing remarks were a contrast to an evening of songs and satirical skits by journalists who lampooned Republicans and Democrats alike.

Sen. John Edwards, the wealthy North Carolina trial lawyer who hopes to be the Democrat who will challenge Bush for the White House next year, poked fun at his own background in giving the Democratic "response."

"President Bush says frivolous lawsuits have never helped anyone," he said. "Yeah, tell that to my new house in Georgetown."

Bush's remarks underscored a feeling among Gridiron members that current topics of the day do not easily lend themselves to levity.

"We had some concerns about writing humor in the face of war, threatened terrorism and economic woes," Walter Mears, retired Associated Press special correspondent and club vice president, said in opening the show.

Nonetheless, the show mined serious subjects for humor set to familiar tunes. One skit portrayed Secretary of State Colin L. Powell crooning that North Korea's president "has a nuclear bomba ... what if he sells it to Osama?" Another had a jazzy Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers singing "Yakety yak, attack Iraq."

The Gridiron Club, consisting of 60 Washington newspaper bureau chiefs, columnists, reporters, cartoonists and editors, exists only for the annual roasting of politicos.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a heart surgeon from Tennessee, used a model and a pointer to demonstrate how the legislative journey compares to the human digestive system -- starting at the mouth, or introduction of legislation, and ending at the other end -- where everything comes out. "As you might imagine, the president often doesn't want anything to do with what comes out down here," he said.

Frist said he often wonders how someone like Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy from "such a tiny state" like Vermont "can cause stomach trouble and pain and keep things from passing. Then I remember the little kidney stone. The man is a human kidney stone."

Nor did Frist spare fellow Republicans. He claimed to have given a checkup recently to former Sen. Bob Dole, who he described as being "so proud of the results of that Viagra he takes.... I said, 'Strip to your waist.' Bob took off his pants."

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