The president does right by poultry, if not by pop stars.
Although Biden called it “the largest edition of this wonderful White House Thanksgiving tradition,” the event felt extremely joyous and unforgettable, even by turkey-pardoning standards.
Maybe that’s not so bad. With two wars raging and the government perpetually on the brink of shutdown, perhaps it wasn’t the time to celebrate. also a lot. Last month, the White House decided to suspend the B-52s, the planned entertainment at Australia’s state dinner, citing the political climate. Things haven’t gotten much happier since then.
Biden was there for 25 minutes on Monday afternoon. The children sitting on their parents’ shoulders had begun to squirm restlessly. After arriving at the lectern around 12:40 p.m., Biden took off his aviators and said, “Before we begin, I’m going to ask for a vote: Will I release the turkeys today?”
The “yes” had it, according to a voice vote.
Biden mentioned that he feels more comfortable with chickens because they never get that big. He touted his administration’s investment in rural farms and paid his respects to former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died Sunday at age 96.
He also made at least one mistake that could require forgiveness from Swifties, which is particularly unfortunate because Liberty and Bell are Taylor Swift fans, according to a wild claim made by Steve Lykken, president of the National Turkey Federation.
“Just to get here, Liberty and Bell had to overcome tough odds and competition,” Biden said. He added that getting a turkey to the White House was “more difficult than getting a ticket to the Renaissance tour or… the Britney tour. She’s in…it’s a little hot in Brazil right now.”
He seemed to be referring to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. A fan died on Friday after attending the show in Rio de Janeiro during a record heat wave.
“That’s a big bird, man,” Biden said as one of the turkeys took the stage. Then he raised his hand. “I hereby forgive Liberty and Bell. … Alright. Congratulations, birds.”
The ceremony is considered the unofficial start to the holidays in Washington, the president noted, but the Bidens got a head start on Sunday, when they attended a “Friendsgiving” with service members and military families at a naval hangar in Norfolk, before to present an Advance Screening of the movie “Wonka”.
Although almost everyone involved talked about the term “76th annual pardon” (including Biden, who assured the crowd he wasn’t in the first one), that’s not exactly true.
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The National Poultry and Egg Board and the National Turkey Federation began giving turkeys to the president in 1947. It was the same year the government endorsed “Poultry-Free Thursdays,” which aimed to encourage food preservation after World War II, but naturally outraged the poultry industry and restaurant owners. Farmers began sending President Harry S. Truman boxes of live chickens in a protest dubbed “Chickens for Harry.”
Did Truman spare the turkeys? Probably not. The next year he accepted two more, saying they “would be useful” for a Christmas meal. Over the years, there have been sporadic turkey pardons by presidents (John F. Kennedy in 1963) and first ladies (Patricia Nixon in 1973, Rosalynn Carter in 1978).
But the annual tradition began with President George HW Bush in 1989. “But let me assure you and this excellent turkey, it will not end up on anyone’s table,” Bush said, according to the White House Historical Association, as The Activists for animal rights protested nearby. Instead, the turkey “will live out his days on a children’s farm not far from here.”
The ceremony has taken place ever since, and has even spread to lower levels of government. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) will spare the life of a turkey named Dolly Pardon this week.
All that history, of course, means dealing with Liberty and Bell. Their whirlwind trip to DC included the usual stay at the Willard Hotel, where on Sunday they met the public for the first time and a group of pault-parazzi.
“They checked in, went up to their rooms, looked at the map with what to do in the city, took a bubble bath and I heard they also had something from the minibar,” said the hotel’s general manager, Markus. Platzer said during a pre-media presentation. His claims could not be independently verified.
Now, the turkeys are headed back north, where they will live out their days at the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences.
According to Biden, they should be happy there.
“They love Honeycrisp apples,” he said of the turkeys. “Not bad, huh? Ice Hockey. “I sure would like to see them play ice hockey.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the National Turkey Federation as the National Turkey Foundation. The article has been corrected.