Biden grants turkey justice as Liberty and Bell ride the gravy train to the White House

Liberty arrived at the White House seeking justice.

President Joe Biden presided over the annual White House Thanksgiving tradition of the turkey pardon Monday, sparing Liberty, a 42.5-pound turkey, and Bell, 42.1 pounds, in a brief respite from the global crises facing his administration.

Liberty and Bell were roasted – but only metaphorically – by the president on the South Lawn of the White House. The yearly occasion is an opportunity for a cornucopia of fowl jokes – and to give thanks as the holiday season begins.

“These birds have a new appreciation for the word, ‘Let freedom ring,’” Biden told an audience of children of his staff and Cabinet members, local schoolkids, and others.

“That’s a big bird, man. I’m impressed,” Biden said as one of the turkeys flapped on a table. “I hereby pardon Liberty and Bell. Congratulations, birds.”

As Americans gather around their Thanksgiving tables this year, the price of the average meal is down from a historic high, signaling some relief from rampant inflation. The average cost of the feast is down approximately 4.5% compared with last year, according to the American Farm Bureau’s annual survey, giving the White House some good news to squawk about.

Rumors of turkey pardons go back in presidential history as far as the Abraham Lincoln administration. Folklore has it that Lincoln’s young son asked his father to spare a pet turkey that was supposed to be part of their Thanksgiving dinner.

The competition of the delivery became national news in the 1920s, when a turkey from Texas sent to Woodrow Wilson in a White House-shaped crate battled outside the White House with a turkey from Kentucky. The Kentucky bird emerged victorious, according to the White House Historical Association.

The National Turkey Foundation became the official turkey supplier to the first family in 1947, and the formal turkey presentation ceremony has been around since Harry Truman. Truman was the first to accept a turkey from the group – however, he did not spare it.

The first documented turkey pardon was given by John F. Kennedy in 1963, though it didn’t catch on right away. Even though Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, neither one of them decided to pardon any turkeys as president.

Turkey pardoning became the norm in 1989, when George H.W. Bush revived the tradition, now a staple of the White House holiday season.

Biden’s most recent predecessors have peppered their pardons with turkey and other topical political puns.

Last year, after the midterm elections, Biden joked that the two birds were part of “another flock hoping to come to Washington in 2024.”

“The votes are in, they’ve been counted and verified, no ballot stuffing, no fowl play. The only red wave this season is going to be if German shepherd Commander knocks over the cranberry sauce,” he said.

Donald Trump poked fun at the impeachment inquiry against him in 2019, telling a crowd that the turkeys “have already received subpoenas to appear in Adam Schiff’s basement,” referring to the California Democratic congressman.

And Barack Obama employed his signature rhetoric: “I want to take a moment to recognize the great turkeys who weren’t so lucky, who didn’t get to ride the gravy train to freedom. Who met their fate with courage and sacrifice and proved that they weren’t chicken.”

“Yes, we cran,” Obama added.

Hatched in July, this year’s birds were raised in a barn by Jennie-O in Willmar, Minnesota. They rode the gravy train to the nation’s capital this week, making the nearly 20-hour drive over three days in a “makeshift pen” in a stretch Cadillac Escalade, Steve Lykken – National Turkey Federation chairman and Jennie-O Turkey Store president – told CNN in an interview. Lykken described the drivers as “seasoned individuals” with turkey-handling experience.

They were chosen from their flock for their extroverted behavior, and were prepared for Monday’s pardon ceremony by being exposed to sounds such as clapping and music at different volumes, Lykken said.

The duo arrived in Washington over the weekend and are staying at the luxe Willard InterContinental, steps from the White House, where pardoned turkeys have rested and ruffled their feathers for over a decade. They participated in a news conference Sunday where their names were formally unveiled, strutting and squawking in front of a podium.

“They checked in, they went up to their rooms, they saw the map with what to do in the city, they had a bubble bath, and I heard that they also had something out of the minibar,” said Markus Platzer, the hotel’s general manager.

Lykken told news conference attendees that the birds are “absolutely ready for prime time.”

Follwing the ceremony, Liberty and Bell will return to their home state, retiring to the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences.

“I know they’re going to receive the highest level of care from the experts and enjoy their time,” Lykken said.

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