On a crisp Monday morning on the White House South Lawn, President Joe Biden marked his 81st birthday by giving out a gift: freeing "Liberty" and "Bell" from the possibility of ending up on the Thanksgiving dinner table with the annual turkey pardoning.
And the president took note of the occasion by cracking several jokes at his own expense about his age, while serving up plenty of puns about the upcoming holiday and lighthearted event.
"This is the 76th anniversary of this event and I want you to know, I wasn’t there at the first one,” Biden joked. "I was too young to make it up."
The president noted Monday’s South Lawn audience included leaders in the agriculture industry, children and families of his staff and cabinet as well as students at Eliot-Hine Middle School – where the president and first lady welcomed kids back to school in August.
This year’s birds – both about 20-week-old males – made the trip to the nation’s capital from Minnesota, where they hatched in Willmar in July and grew up on a family farm. The turkeys received the full luxurious treatment in Washington, making the daylong road trip in a black Cadillac Escalade before checking into the historic Willard Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday.
“Everyone here, we are excited to have our honored guests with us today: Liberty and Bell. This is their day,” Biden exclaimed.
The president joked that even though Liberty and Bell are from Minnesota, they are named after Philadelphia's famed Liberty Bell.
“These birds have a new appreciation of the word 'let freedom ring,'” Biden said with a laugh.
Chairman of the National Turkey Federation and president of the Jennie-O Turkey Store Steve Lykken noted the turkeys even listened to music and other sounds to ready them for Monday’s White House festivities.
“God, they are big," Biden said of the 42-pound birds. "See, I’m used to chickens in Delaware. We got a $4 billion industry in chickens, but there is no chicken that big, man, I'll tell ya."
With Liberty and Bell’s presidential pardoning, Biden kicked off the unofficial start of Washington’s holiday season. Next up: just hours later on Monday afternoon, first lady Jill Biden will receive this year’s 18.5 foot White House christmas tree.
The president on Monday also did not shy away from mentioning another celebration – his birthday, making multiple jokes about his age as the oldest president in U.S. history.
“I just want you to know it's difficult turning 60, it's difficult,” he said.
Biden also did not pass up the chance to subtly mention his economic agenda – with the president speaking about his trip to another family farm in Minnesota earlier this month where he announced an investment of $5 billion to help update infrastructure, boost high-speed internet and aid agricultural producers and small businesses in implementing climate-focused practices in rural America.
“Because of the investments we’re making, we’re restoring hope and opportunity so family farms can stay in the family and children don’t have to leave home if they wish to stay and make a living,” Biden said on Monday.
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. The tradition of a ceremony in which the birds are pardoned and spared from a family’s Thanksgiving table came together by the late 1980’s.
After receiving their official pardon 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.
Ending on a more serious note, the president said we often forget how much we have to be thankful for as a nation. He noted the holiday is also a time to think about the loved ones we lost, mentioning former first lady Rosalynn Carter who died on Sunday at 96 years old.
She “walked her own path, inspiring a nation and the world along the way,” Biden said.
The president 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 from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Gerald R. Ford at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia, the largest installation of its kind in the world, along with their families.
“We owe them, we owe them big,” Biden said of service members and their families.
“We can all give thanks to the gift that is our nation,” the president said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.