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," President Biden said. "Congratulations, birds.”
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. He 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, 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.
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, a bird 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 turkeys are pardoned, given a second chance at life after they are spared from ending up on a family's Thanksgiving table.
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.
A little over 200 million turkeys will be eaten on Thanksgiving, Lykken said.
Biden will eat his Thanksgiving turkey with family on Nantucket, 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.