President Joe Biden pardons Peanut Butter, one of two turkeys that received a presidential pardon at the White House on Friday. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 19 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden gave out his first Thanksgiving pardons Friday -- to two turkeys named Peanut Butter and Jelly -- excusing the birds and putting his signature on the long-running White House tradition that dates back to Ronald Reagan's presidency.
Peanut Butter and Jelly are two 40-pound turkeys who were raised in Jasper, Ind. They were provided by the National Turkey Federation.
"By the powers vested in me as the president of the United States, I pardon you," Biden said.
"Eventually, Peanut Butter and Jelly were selected based on their temperament, appearance and, I suspect, vaccination status," he joked.
Biden planned to pardon only Peanut Butter, but he said he'd grant the same courtesy to Jelly.
Even if only one had become the National Thanksgiving Turkey during the ceremony in the Rose Garden, they were both slated to be spared from the butcher's block. They'll head off to Purdue University's Animal Sciences Education and Research Farm in their home state to live out their retirement years.
The two Indiana-raised birds spent Thursday night at a luxury hotel ahead of the pardoning ceremony.
"The president will celebrate the 74th anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation, reflect upon the time-honored traditions of Thanksgiving, and wish American families a safe and healthy holiday," the White House said in a statement.
After the pardon, Biden and first lady Jill Biden were expected to leave the White House and fly to Delaware for the weekend.
"Raising the presidential turkey flock has really been a lot of fun this year," grower Andrea Welp said at a press conference Thursday. "As we all know, with another year of uncertainties with the [coronavirus] pandemic, this project has really been something to look forward to."
The tradition of a White House turkey dates back to President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, as poultry dealer Horace Vose became known for offering turkeys as gifts through the 1880s.
President Harry S. Truman has been credited with establishing the White House relationship with the National Turkey Federation in 1947, and first ladies Patricia Nixon and Rosalynn Carter began the tradition of sending the national turkeys to farms during the 1970s.
The ceremonial pardon by the president became a regular tradition under President George H.W. Bush and was subsequently carried on by each of his successors -- but it was Reagan who first uttered the notion of "pardoning" the turkey, and quite by accident.
Reagan was participating in the annual presentation with the official turkey, Charlie, outside the White House in 1987 when longtime ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson asked the president whether he was planning to pardon national security adviser John Poindexter over the infamous Iran-Contra scandal.
As Reagan was wont to do, he attempted to deflect the serious question with a joke, and signaled that he would pardon Charlie.
There was no mention of a pardon at Reagan's final turkey ceremony in 1988, and Bush began the tradition a year later and it's been done every year since -- spanning more than three decades and six presidents, including Biden.