The birds, presented in tradition by the National Turkey Federation, come from Monroe, NC, where they were raised by NTF Chairman Ronnie Parker.
Later in the afternoon, Biden and first lady Jill Biden were scheduled to travel to the US Marine Corps base in Cherry Point, NC — which sits on the Eastern Seaboard, 250 miles from Chocolate and Chip’s hometown — to have dinner with service members. and their families. Biden referred to it as a “Friendsgiving.” (Presidents, they’re just like us!) On Tuesday, they’ll fly up to Nantucket, Massachusetts, where they’ll celebrate the holiday with family before returning to the District on Sunday.
Biden appeared to be in good spirits Monday, wearing aviator sunglasses, and unleashed another barrage of terrible jokes and groan-inducing puns. Was there a reference to “fowl play”? You can believe that. Didn’t he promise to “swallow too much time”? People wouldn’t call him Uncle Joe if he didn’t.
Vowing to keep things short, Biden acknowledged the crunch day by saying, “Nobody likes it when their turkey goes cold.” Pretty sure even the turkeys groaned at it.
“They listened to a lot of music to prepare for the crowd noise today,” Biden added before laughing. “It’s really hard work.”
His good humor wasn’t particularly surprising given the red wave that wasn’t during the last midterm election, a fact he made sure to riff on during an otherwise politics-less ceremony, saying, “The only red wave in this season will be if the German Shepherd spills the cranberry sauce on our table.”
The turkeys, meanwhile, appeared to be enjoying themselves despite wearing nothing but feathers to protect themselves from the bitter cold as temperatures hovered in the 40s during the bright DC morning. More likely, they were looking forward to their new home at North Carolina State University. But as Biden said, “When we told them they were joining the Wolfpack, they were a little scared. But then we explained it was just a mascot.”
Frankly, their good humor was no surprise either, as turkeys have enjoyed some pretty good press this year. The Washington Post website on Monday featured stories about “vegetarian and vegan entrees that can eclipse that turkey” and a piece about what great pets they are.
“Now, based on their temperament and commitment to being productive members of society, I hereby apologize to Chocolate and Chip,” Biden said at about 11:31 a.m. The turkeys gobbled like they were on their way.
The 46-pound chocolate was placed on a table adorned with a fall flower, while the 47-pound Chip wandered the rose garden grass like he owned the place. Biden offered the microphone to Chocolate, but he declined to comment.
Unlike Saturday’s White House wedding between Naomi Biden and Peter Neal, the turkey pardon was open to the press, who arrived in droves. “We had a 12-year-old with press credentials today,” said an incredulous guard, chuckling. Indeed, the future of journalism looked bright as several young journalists stood proudly, notebooks in hand, among the grizzled vets of the White House press corps.
Unfortunately, most of said reporters were placed in areas out of sight of the president or the turkeys whose lives he spared — and, oddly enough, were also not allowed to look at a live-feed monitor located in the press area. Some tried to leave, while others watched on their phones a live feed of what was happening not 75 meters away. The journalists who covered this weekend’s wedding with binoculars might have had a better idea of what they were covering.
Most agree the tradition dates back to 1947 — in fact, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called Monday’s event “the 75th anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation” at a press briefing last week. That’s when the National Poultry and Egg Board and the National Turkey Federation began giving birds to the commander-in-chief – then President Harry S. Truman. The timing was not entirely arbitrary. Earlier that year, the government had approved “poultry-free Thursdays” encouraging food conservation in the wake of World War II, but sparked outrage from industry. It led to a protest campaign called “Hens for Harry”, in which farmers sent boxes of live chickens to the White House.
But there is no evidence that Truman pardoned his turkey that year. It seems much more likely that he swallowed it, because the next year he accepted two more birds as a gift, saying they would “come in handy” for Christmas dinner.
Turkeys and the White House have a longer, storied history, according to the White House Historical Association. In 1873, Rhode Island poultry farmer Horace Vose presented a turkey he had raised to President Ulysses S. Grant—and spent the next four decades delivering dozens upon dozens of the birds to presidents for Thanksgiving and Christmas parties.
For most of American history, if a president came across a turkey in the White House, he ate it. The exceptions that prove this rule appeared sporadically. An 1865 dispatch from White House reporter Noah Brooks notes that President Abraham Lincoln pardoned a gobbler back in 1863. President John F. Kennedy reportedly let one live through the 1963 holiday, and turkeys were presented to first ladies Patricia Nixon in 1973 and Rosalynn Carter in 1978 were sent to live on farms.
The pardon itself has only been an annual tradition since 1989, according to the WHHA, when President George HW Bush said of his lucky bird, as animal rights activists protested nearby: “But let me assure you, and this fine empty turkey, that he will not end up somebody’s dinner table, not this guy — he’s presented with a presidential pardon right now — and allow him to live out his days in an orphanage not far from here.” Bush kept the tradition alive throughout his presidency, as did everyone who held office since.
All that history meant little to Chocolate and Chip, who ruffled their feathers and took the president’s remarks to heart — presumably thrilled at the prospect of joining previously pardoned birds like Peanut Butter and Jelly and Mac and Cheese in the lovely tradition of does not is filled and fried.
And while they declined to chat with the assembled press, they chimed in as Biden closed the ceremony with a plea for unity.
“Let’s remember one thing. This is United States of America. The United States of America. There is not a single solitary thing beyond our ability as a nation, nothing beyond our ability if we do it together. United. United,” Biden said as Chocolate swung her head forward, red swaying in the light breeze and let out a huge gulp.