(Music from the movie, Titanic, is played.)
THE PRESIDENT: Haunting, isn't it? (Laughter.) You know, usually, I go for Hail To The Chief -- (laughter) -- but this week I can't seem to get that song out of my head. (Laughter.)
Good evening, President Nolan. Senator McCain, members of Congress, members of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association, distinguished journalists, Mr. DiCaprio. (Laughter and applause.)
Now, ABC doesn't know whether Leo and I had an interview, a walk-through, or a drive-by. (Laughter.) But I don't know if all their damage control is worth the effort. I mean, it's a little bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the set of This Week with Sam and Cokie. (Laughter.) Don't you news people ever learn? It isn't the mistake that kills you, it's the cover-up. (Laughter and applause.)
Now, look, I want to say right now, I have nothing against ABC. I like ABC just as much as I like all the other networks. (Laughter.) Just the other day, for example, Diane Sawyer came to the White House for an interview -- actually, she called it a "visit." (Laughter.) And everything was fine until she asked me to do some crayon pictures in the Oval Office. (Laughter.) That was weird.
But I just want to say this to David Westin. You know, I've been in a lot of tough spots. Don't let this get you down. (Laughter.) You may not be America's news leader, but you're "King of the World." (Laughter and applause.)
Wait a minute, before I go any further, I want to welcome the really funny person who is here tonight, the man who impersonates me every week on Saturday Night Live, Mr. Darrell Hammond. (Applause.) And, Darrell, I want you to know I used to think you were really funny. But not so much anymore. I think it's Clinton fatigue. (Laughter.)
Poor Darrell, what's he going to do when I leave office? (Laughter.) Come to think of it, what am I going to do? (Laughter.)
I know that you've heard me say I hope to join the Senate Spouses Club. But I've been thinking, I don't really want to be a member of the Senate Spouses Club. I want to be President of the Senate Spouses Club. (Laughter.)
You know what the big, hot issue on Capitol Hill is today -- the majority party, otherwise known as the Republicans, are raising a ruckus about this Census long form. They say these questions are too intrusive. Maybe it's just a matter of perspective. (Laughter and applause.) Depends on whether you're the asker or the answerer. (Laughter.) But I'd be pretty hard-pressed to call these questions intrusive. You should look at the questionnaire those guys sent me. (Laughter.) Maybe again, I don't think you should. (Laughter.)
You know what question really upsets the Republicans on the Census form? Question 19 -- "Are you better off today than you were at the last Census?" (Laughter.) I mean, even a presidential candidate has made this an issue. Just the other day he said he might leave his own Census form blank. Hmmm -- a blank Census form? An adult literacy program? It's starting to add up. (Laughter.) Sounds like a cry for help to me. (Laughter.) Governor Bush even refused to state his date of birth -- on the grounds that it happened more than 25 years ago. (Laughter and applause.)
But he's not the only person who's uptight about this long form. Let me just read you some of the questions that other prominent public officials refused to answer. For example, except for Senator McCain, the entire Republican caucus refused to answer this one: "Have you recently changed your policy on interracial dating?" (Laughter.) "If so, do you know for sure your date is not a Catholic?" (Laughter.) "Regardless, please attach parental approval slip."
Here's the second one. "What is the deal with your hair?" (Laughter.) Trent Lott refused to answer that. (Laughter.) Then again, so did Hillary. (Laughter.) Wait a minute. How about this one. I thought this was important -- "Do you work and play well with others?" (Laughter.) Mayor Giuliani had no comment. (Laughter.) There's a first time for everything. (Laughter.)
But, look, I know the question that's on everyone's mind today -- this custody battle involving the Gonzalez family and the United States and Cuba. And I know the new hot issue is about my difference of opinion with Vice President Gore. But with all respect, you news people have missed the real story here, and there is a real story. We have finally found the one immigrant Pat Buchanan wants to keep in America. (Laughter and applause.)
Look, it's no secret, Presidents and Vice Presidents have always disagreed. So it's time to set the record straight on the whole range of issues where the Vice President and I differ. For example, in June he will reveal his plan to relocate the United Nations Headquarters in Nashville. (Laughter.) A bold, new idea. But I don't agree with it. Indeed, I'm growing more partial to New York every day.
When it comes to campaign finance, we differ. In our beverage of choice, I drink coffee, he drinks ice tea. However, if I'd known back then about the ice tea defense, I'd have drunk tea, too. (Laughter.)
In the days before the Democratic Convention, Al will publicly announce another longstanding disagreement we've had -- we've kept it under wraps for over seven years now. It involves our weekly White House lunches. He strongly believes it is rude for one person to eat off another person's plate. (Laughter.) Me -- I think it's a sign of friendship and familiarity. (Laughter.)
On technology issues, God bless him, Al invented e-mail. Me -- I just can't find them. (Laughter and applause.) Everybody now knows the Vice President prefers earth-tone; all you see me in is primary colors. (Laughter.) We both share an abiding interest in Buddhism. (Laughter.) But when I visited the Buddhists in India, it cost the taxpayers millions. When Al meets with Buddhists, he turns a tidy profit. (Laughter.)
Now, our differences notwithstanding, I am a strong supporter of the Vice President. But beyond that, I'm not going to comment. After all, I'm not running for anything. For the first time in more than 20 years, my name is not on the ballot; this election is not about me. And, hey, I'm okay with that. (Laughter.) Suits me just fine. It's all of you in the media who keep trying to drag me into this thing. I mean, I don't see how it involves me at all -- I'm the Commander in Chief, I've got a lot of
responsibilities. Even if I were inclined to impose myself, which I'm not, I wouldn't have time. Except for last weekend, when I did find just a few hours to produce a few campaign ads for Al. I'd like you to take a look at them and tell me what you think.
(Ad is shown with the President speaking.) "This November, Americans face the future. The stakes are high and the choice is clear. One candidate has worked for eight years with Bill Clinton. He's considered by Bill Clinton to be a close, personal friend, helping make his toughest decisions, a partner in progress as Bill Clinton moves America forward.
The other candidate has never worked a day with Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton hardly even knows the guy, and when Bill Clinton first ran for President, he voted against Bill Clinton. Al Gore -- he's Bill Clinton's choice. Shouldn't he be yours?" (Applause.)
"When Bill Clinton chose Al Gore as his running mate, the conventional wisdom called it a mistake. They said Gore was too much like Clinton. Too much like Clinton? Too visionary? Too strong? With a plan that would bring America too much prosperity, and the world too much peace Bill Clinton stood up to the pundits and starred down the pollsters. Choosing Al Gore was one of his very best decisions. And doesn't that tell you a lot about Bill Clinton? Al Gore -- too much like Clinton? Good for him; good for us." (Applause.)
"As America's greatest Vice President, Al Gore has been a voice for our values, a fighter for our families. More than that, a strong partner to Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton, a small-town boy from Arkansas who dared to dream big dreams. Young Bill worked hard and played by the rules. He went on to lead his country and build a bridge to the 21st century. Most important, Bill Clinton created AmeriCorps. Bill Clinton still believes in the promise of America -- and he still believes in a place called Hope. Al Gore -- because there's a 22nd Amendment." (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Unfortunately, all these ads would be illegal under the Vice President's campaign finance proposal. (Laughter.) Not because they're unethical, certainly not because they're untrue. Because they're just dumb. (Laughter.)
Of course, in America, each of us has the constitutional right to silly or dumb speech. I have certainly asserted my right here tonight. But I think we should take another moment to honor that essential freedom, to recognize that vital principle, by asking the members of the McLaughlin Group to stand. (Laughter.)
Let me say to all of you, I really am okay most days about not being President next year. And it will be nice for all of you to have someone else to chew on. But I have loved coming to this dinner, and I have been privileged to come every year but one that I have been here. I have enjoyed all my interactions with you, the battles, the agreements, the disagreements, the robing, the jabbing, even the occasional bloodshed. And, believe it or not, I appreciate the efforts you make to bring Washington's world to the world beyond Washington. I know it's important; I know it's difficult.
I've tried to keep you entertained, and I've tried to keep you involved. (Laughter.) And I hope you've at least had some pretty good, substantive things to write about for the last seven-plus years. But for all you have done, and especially once a year for giving me, and indeed all of us, the chance to have a good laugh, I thank you very, very much. (Applause.)
END 10:00 P.M. EDT