The next National Thanksgiving Turkey and winner of this year’s annual presidential pardon is… Abe. President Barack Obama celebrated his seventh turkey pardon on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, with the help of his daughters Malia, 17 and Sasha, 14. At the ceremony, the president named Abe the TOTUS, the Turkey of the United States. This year’s turkey pardon was held in an outside ceremony at the White House’s Rose Garden. President Obama’s remarks continued the tradition of mixing humor with serious reasons to be thankful this holiday season.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Obama’s remarks at the event were far lighter than his usual White House speeches, complete with appropriate traditional Thanksgiving and turkey jokes. Speaking at the very brief ceremony, Obama humorously jabbed the presidential candidates and mostly the large Republican field. Obama said, “As you may have heard, for months there has been a fierce competition between a bunch of turkeys trying to wing their way into the White House. Well, today, I can announce that the American people have spoken, and we have two winners.”
The president announced that “Abe” won and is the new “TOTUS – Turkey of the United States,” while “Honest,” was named the “alternate.” Obama joked, “I confess that Honest looks like good eating, but this is a democracy. Abe is now a free bird. He is TOTUS – the Turkey of the United States.”
Making a vice president joke Obama said, “If for some reason Abe can’t fulfill his duties to walk around and gobble all day, Honest is in an undisclosed location ready to serve in the TOTUS line of succession.” Continuing and acknowledging how special the US is as a country, Obama expressed, “America is, after all, a country of second chances, and this turkey has earned a second chance to live out his life comfortably.”
The president who enjoys using his turkey pardon remarks to make subtle jabs at Republicans kept the tradition alive. Making a joke about real pardons, Obama joked, “I’ve got to listen to my critics, who say I’m often too soft on turkeys. And I’m sure the press is digging into whether the turkeys I’ve pardoned have really rededicated their lives to being good turkey citizens.”
President Obama’s daughters stood on either side of their father joining him as they have done each year of his presidency. This year, however, they were enjoying the ceremony, joking and laughing along with the president’s jokes. Even when Obama seemed to find his TOTUS joke somewhat corny, saying, “Oh, boy,” Malia told him “OK, that’s funny.”
Last year a former spokesperson for Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee Elizabeth Lauten famously called out the Obama daughters on Twitter for looking bored and rolling their eyes as their father made one bad turkey joke after another. Lauten was forced to resign for her remarks.
This year’s turkey pardon could be the last where both of Obama’s daughters attend since Malia is graduating high school this year and heading off to college in the fall. Both girls tried to make the best of the ceremony. While Obama was feeling nostalgic, saying, “It is hard to believe that this is my seventh year of pardoning turkeys. Time flies, even if turkeys don’t.” Sasha seemed to enjoy that joke telling her father, “That was good, that was good,” to which he agreed, “I thought it was good.”
President Obama admitted that his daughters attend the ceremony for him. The president expressed, “They do this solely because it makes me feel good, not because they actually think that this is something I should be doing. And as you get older, you appreciate how your kids indulge you like this.”
The star of the ceremony, Abe was not on his best behavior. Although Obama told the guests at the ceremony to “Feel free to keep on gobbling,” Abe went a little out of control. The lucky winning turkey pecked at White House political director David Simas. Obama found it funny, saying, “Simas is he attacking you? Are you OK? … My political director is getting pecked by TOTUS!”
Both turkeys were raised in California’s central valley, the brother turkeys are 18 weeks old and weigh about 42 pounds, with Honest a bit larger. Honest’s face and neck are red, and his strut style is “Skoots in Boots,” while Abe has more blue on his face and neck, and his strut style is “Macho Man” according to the White House website.
From Tuesday, Nov. 24, the public was able to vote for their favorite bird on Twitter as it has become the tradition for the third year in a row. Both turkeys are going to retire their short lives to the “White House on Turkey Hill” at Morven Park’s Turkey Hill Farm in Leesburg, Va., the home of pardoned turkeys since 2010.
President Obama’s speech was not all fun and laughter, he became more serious when he announced that later in the afternoon he, First Lady Michelle and their two daughters would “take some of the less fortunate turkey brothers with us” and serve meals to homeless veterans at the Friendship Place Homeless Center. Obama said, “It’s not only of the spirit of giving during this holiday season but our national obligation to make sure all those who serve and sacrifice for our country have a place to call home. My administration considers this one of our top priorities, making sure that we’re bringing about the reality of zero homelessness for our veterans.”
President Obama acknowledged the “challenging times,” with Thanksgiving happening two weeks after the Paris terror attacks by ISIS and renewed terrorism and attacks. The president remarked, “I know some folks think this tradition is a little silly. I do not disagree. But I do enjoy this chance to wish America a happy Thanksgiving.” Obama said American should be thankful, “We go through challenging times. So often the news of the day can make folks discouraged, but the fact is we live in the greatest country on earth. And we are blessed in so many ways – most of all because we have families and friends and people we care about.”
This is the 68th time the National Turkey Federation has presented the sitting president with the National Thanksgiving Turkey. Turkeys, however, have been donated to presidents for near 150 years, since 1873 when Ulysses S. Grant was president. The turkey pardon had its unofficial start, in 1947 when President Harry S. Truman had a ceremony in the Rose Garden marking the turkey presentation. Unfortunately, not all the all the turkeys presented since then were spared, President Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson enjoyed eating their present rather than sparing them.
The official turkey pardon ceremony is much newer, only dating back to 1989 when President George H. W. Bush officially inaugurated the tradition. President Bush stated at the first ceremony; “‘Reprieve,’ ‘keep him going,’ or ‘pardon’: it’s all the same for the turkey, as long as he doesn’t end up on the president’s holiday table.”
Thanksgiving turkeys, however, had had Presidential pardons since the 1860s, when in 1963 Abraham Lincoln spared the turkey he son Tad liked the meal, this turkey named Jack was adopted as pet living in the White House. President John F. Kennedy’s pardon on Nov. 20, 1963, was the first one that resembled the more modern official ceremony when he stated, “We’ll just let this one grow” to the large 55 pound scared turkey presented to him wearing a “Good eating, Mr. President” sign around his neck.