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Biden pardons Thanksgiving turkeys, Liberty and Bell, before traveling to Nantucket for holiday

President Biden pardoned the national Thanksgiving turkey, Liberty, during a pardoning ceremony at the White House on Monday,ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON (AP) — Liberty and Bell can spread their wings without fear.

The two Thanksgiving turkeys played their part Monday in an annual holiday tradition at the White House: a president sparing them from becoming someone’s dinner.

“I hereby pardon Liberty and Bell. Congratulations, birds,” Biden said after one of the National Thanksgiving Turkeys was placed on a table near him.

The event, held on the South Lawn this year instead of the smaller Rose Garden, marks the unofficial start of the holiday season in Washington, and Monday was an especially busy opening day.

President Joe Biden, the oldest president in U.S. history, also celebrated turning 81 on Monday. In the afternoon, his wife, first lady Jill Biden, was accepting the delivery of an 18.5-foot (5.6-meter) Fraser fir from Fleetwood, North Carolina, as the official White House Christmas tree.


The national Thanksgiving turkeys, Liberty and Bell, arrived for a pardoning ceremony on Monday. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Biden joked about his age, saying, “this is the 76th anniversary of this event. I want you to know I wasn’t there for the first one.” The Democrat’s age has become an issue as he seeks reelection next year.

Steve Lykken, chairman of the National Turkey Federation and president of the Jennie-O Turkey Store, told The Associated Press in an interview last week that the pardons are a “great way to kick off the holiday season and really, really a fun honor.”

President Biden stood next to Liberty, one of the two national Thanksgiving turkeys, after pardoning them.Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Lykken introduced Liberty and Bell on Sunday at the Willard Intercontinental, a luxury hotel near the White House. The gobblers checked into a suite there on Saturday following their red-carpet arrival in the U.S. capital after a dayslong road trip from Minnesota in a black Cadillac Escalade.

“They were raised like all of our turkeys, protected, of course, from weather extremes and predators, free to walk about with constant access to water and feed,” Lykken said at Sunday’s event as Liberty and Bell strutted around the Willard’s newly renovated Crystal Room on plastic sheeting laid over the carpet. Young children in the crowd of onlookers — many of them employees and guests of the Jennie-O company — yelled “gobble, gobble” at them.


The male turkeys, both about 20 weeks old and about 42 pounds (19 kilograms), were hatched in July in Willmar, Minnesota — Jennie-O is headquartered there — as part of the “presidential flock,” Lykken said. They listened to music and other sounds to prepare them for Monday’s hoopla at the White House.

Two turkeys, named Liberty and Bell, who will receive a Presidential Pardon at the White House ahead of Thanksgiving, were coaxed back into their carriers after an official photo shoot in the lobby of the Willard InterContinental Hotel, on Nov. 19, 2023.Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

“They listened to all kinds of music to get ready for the crowds and people along the way. I can confirm they are, in fact, Swifties, and they do enjoy some Prince,” Lykken said, meaning that Liberty and Bell are fans of Taylor Swift. “I think they’re absolutely ready for prime time.”

The tradition dates to 1947 when the National Turkey Federation, which represents turkey farmers and producers, first presented a National Thanksgiving Turkey to President Harry Truman.

Back then, and even earlier, the gobbler was given for the first family’s holiday consumption. But by the late 1980s, the tradition had evolved into an often humorous ceremony in which the birds are pardoned, given a second chance at life after they are spared from ending up on a family’s Thanksgiving table.

Two turkeys, named Liberty and Bell, who will receive a Presidential Pardon at the White House ahead of Thanksgiving, attended their news conference, on Nov. 19, 2023, at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

In 1989, as animal rights activists picketed nearby, President George H.W. Bush said, “But let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy -- he’s granted a presidential pardon as of right now -- and allow him to live out his days on a children’s farm not far from here.”


After Biden pardons his third pair of turkeys on Monday, Liberty and Bell will be returned to their home state to be cared for by the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences.

“You can imagine the wonderful care they’re going to get from students and veterinarians and professors, etc., and so they will hopefully have a chance, maybe, to go see a hockey game or spend time with Goldy the gopher,” Lykken said, referring to the university’s mascot.

A little over 200 million turkeys will be eaten on Thanksgiving, Lykken said.

Biden will eat his Thanksgiving turkey with family on Nantucket, a Massachusetts island, continuing a long family tradition. On Sunday, he and the first lady served an early Thanksgiving meal to hundreds of service members at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia.

Children reacted as two turkeys, named Liberty and Bell, who will attend the annual presidential pardon at the White House ahead of Thanksgiving, let out loud gobbles during their news conference, on Nov. 19, 2023.Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press