For the 76th year in a row on Monday, an American president took part in the pre-Thanksgiving ritual of pardoning a turkey. And President Biden, who turned 81 on the same day he spared a pair of birds, wanted to get one thing straight.
“I want you to know I wasn’t there for the first one,” Mr. Biden quipped on the South Lawn of the White House, making light of an issue (his age) that polls show troubles most Americans.
“I was too young to make it,” Mr. Biden said as he saved the lives of Liberty and Bell, each weighing in at 42 pounds and change.
As Liberty — or maybe it was Bell — bobbed his head and flapped on a table, the president proclaimed: “I hereby pardon Liberty and Bell. Congratulations, birds. Congratulations.”
The act of granting clemency to a turkey, perhaps America’s most hokey modern presidential tradition, was stuffed with the usual bad jokes and puns. “These birds have a new appreciation for the word, ‘Let freedom ring,’” the president said.
Mr. Biden also poked fun at himself.
“By the way, it’s my birthday today,” Mr. Biden told a crowd that included White House staff members and their families, a group of middle schoolers and farming groups. “I just want you to know it’s difficult turning 60,” he said to scattered laughter.
Then the president flubbed a joke, appearing to confuse the pop icons Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Britney Spears.
Describing the more than 1,000 miles the turkeys traveled to appear at the White House, Mr. Biden said, “You could say it’s even harder than trying to get a ticket to the Renaissance tour, or for Britney’s tour.” He added, “She’s down in, it’s kind of warm in Brazil right now.”
Ms. Swift’s Eras Tour had to postpone a show in Brazil over the weekend because of extreme heat in Rio de Janeiro. Ms. Spears is making headlines with a new memoir, but is not currently touring. Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour ended in October.
In a sign of where the president is turning his focus, he noted that the turkeys were named for the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, in a swing state, Pennsylvania, that might hold the key to the next election.
Mr. Biden, who spent his childhood in Scranton, Pa., and referred to himself on the campaign trail as a “kid from Scranton,” has been to Pennsylvania 30 times since he was elected president. That is more than he has visited any other state except his home state of Delaware.
The annual pardoning of White House turkeys officially began in 1947 under President Harry S. Truman, according to the White House. Legend has it, though, that President Abraham Lincoln was the first to show mercy to a turkey at the urging of his son Tad in 1863.
The next step for Liberty and Bell is retirement, when they return to their home state of Minnesota and live out the rest of their lives at the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.
“God, they’re big,” Mr. Biden said of the birds.
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