Biden Pardons 2 Turkeys in Thanksgiving Tradition


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WASHINGTON — There are few rituals in President Biden’s Washington that the coronavirus has not touched, that partisan contagion has not warped and that a collective sense of American exhaustion has not endangered.

But the cheesy, just-because tradition of the presidential turkey pardon? It is alive and well.

“Peanut Butter and Jelly were selected based on their temperament, appearance, and, I suspect, vaccination status,” Mr. Biden said on Friday in a Rose Garden ceremony, calling the chosen bird (Peanut Butter) and its alternate (Jelly) by name. “Yes, instead of getting basted, these two turkeys are getting boosted.”

The half-hour turkey ceremony, complete with its bad puns and dozens of White House officials and their families looking on, seemed like a throwback to another time, or at least an unmasked one. The nature of Mr. Biden’s presidency, with its promise to pull together a fractured nation, means that serious times have called for a serious White House.

During his first year in office, there was no Easter egg roll. There were no trick-or-treaters roaming the White House driveway. There was a Fourth of July picnic hailing a “summer of freedom” from the coronavirus, but, given the rise of the Delta variant, the mission-accomplished tone turned out to be ill-timed. The turkey ceremony gave Mr. Biden a few minutes to bask in what is the most frivolous and least controversial perk of the office, one that, he said, “reminds us to have a little bit of fun, and always be grateful.”

Mr. Biden began an eight-minute speech by saying that the tradition of the presentation of the turkey dated back to President Truman, but was soon interrupted by a heckler: one of the gobbling birds.

“Yes,” a delighted-looking Mr. Biden said to the bird. “Yes.”

There was no talk of Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda, or a vote taken earlier in the day by the House to advance a $2 trillion social spending package. There was no mention of a not-guilty verdict in Wisconsin for a man who fatally shot two other men and wounded another amid protests and rioting over police conduct last year. There was no mention of the cost of Thanksgiving, which this year will be more expensive for families because of the rising cost of goods. (Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this week that a turkey would cost about $1 more this year.)

There are enough large and looming problems facing this White House to power a Billy Joel song, but on Friday afternoon, the president did not answer questions shouted at him about any of that, and did not drift toward a Fox News reporter who called his name several times.

Instead, Mr. Biden, who is not always the most disciplined communicator, focused on what he was there to do: offer freedom to a pair of 40-pound birds.

“Turkey is infrastructure,” Mr. Biden said. “Peanut Butter and Jelly are going to help build back the Butterball.”

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