Biden celebrates his 81st birthday pardoning Thanksgiving turkeys

President Joe Biden spent part of his 81st birthday Monday carrying out an annual White House tradition: pardoning two lucky turkeys.

The selected star birds, named Liberty and Bell, both hail from Willmar, Minnesota, the National Turkey Federation announced Sunday.

“Even though Liberty and Bell are from Minnesota, they are named for the famous Liberty Bell in Philadelphia,” Biden joked at the pardoning ceremony Monday morning, adding, “These birds have a new appreciation for the word, ‘Let freedom ring.'”

Two turkeys, named Liberty and Bell, who will receive a Presidential Pardon at the White House ahead of Thanksgiving in a hotel lobby in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 19, 2023. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)

Liberty and Bell love Honeycrisp apples, ice hockey and the city of Bloomington’s famous Mall of America, Biden said.

The president also noted that Monday’s ceremony fell on his birthday, sharing that he earlier had met the chairman of the National Turkey Federation, Steve Lykken, and his family, who sang the president “Happy Birthday to You.”

“As much of you know, it’s difficult turning 60,” Biden joked. He further nodded to his age — a point of criticism from Republicans and even some Democrats — adding, “This the 76th anniversary of this event. I want you to know I wasn’t there, and I was too young to make it up.”

Biden said the ceremony Monday kicked off the unofficial start of the holiday season in Washington, and he gave “thanks to all the families across America who feed and fuel our nation and the world.”

The president and first lady Jill Biden will spend their Thanksgiving with family in Nantucket, Massachusetts, continuing a family tradition that dates back to 1975.

Monday was Biden’s third time pardoning a pair of turkeys in preparation for the holiday season. The presidential tradition began in 1947 with the National Turkey Federation’s presenting of a turkey to President Harry Truman.

Ahead of their White House visit, Liberty and Bell shared a luxurious room at the Willard Hotel in Washington.

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

Lykken said Sunday that the special pair received a “red carpet welcome” at the hotel over the weekend. He added that to get prepared for their big day in the spotlight, Liberty and Bell had been listening to some music, including Taylor Swift and Prince.

“I can confirm they are, in fact, Swifties,” Lykken said.

Lykken also spoke about the importance of the ceremony to the industry.

“One of the perks of the job is having the opportunity to raise the National Thanksgiving turkeys and presenting them, of course, to the president of the United States at the White House,” he said Sunday. “This event, certainly for us, is an opportunity to recognize the really hard work of turkey farmers and men and women throughout animal agriculture and the turkey industry, and this is no exception.”

Liberty and Bell were hatched as part of the trade group’s presidential flock in July, Lykken said Sunday. To prepare the prized turkeys for their pardons, the members of the flock are protected from extreme weather and predators, are free in their barn to walk about, and have constant access to water and feed, he added.

“After the red carpet welcome by Willard yesterday and meeting all of you today, I think they’re absolutely ready for prime time,” Lykken said.

The now-pardoned pair will live out the rest of their days at the University of Minnesota, he said.

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

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