President Donald Trump on Tuesday honored another White House tradition where he granted a pardon to “Butter,” the turkey, and his alternate, “Bread,” in the Rose Garden, ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Honoring his own tradition of cracking jokes while granting clemency to poultry, Trump said, “I expect this pardon will be a very popular one with the media. After all, turkeys are closely related to vultures.”
The turkeys have been “raised to remain calm under any condition, which will be very important because they’ve already received subpoenas to appear in Adam Schiff’s basement on Thursday,” Trump said, referring to impeachment hearings.
“Bread and Butter, I should note that unlike previous witnesses, you and I have actually met,” the president said in another jab to Democrats and their impeachment inquiry.
The president made a similar subpoena joke during last year’s turkey pardon, saying, “Even though Peas and Carrots have received a presidential pardon, I have warned them that House Democrats are likely to issue them both subpoenas.”
Trump has made political jokes during all of his Thanksgiving turkey pardons since coming to office. In his first turkey pardon in 2017, Trump joked that he has been “very active in overturning” executive actions taken by his predecessor Barack Obama, but would not subject the birds to it.
“I have been informed by the White House counsel’s office that Tater and Tot’s pardons cannot, under any circumstances, be revoked,” Trump said. “So, Tater and Tot, you can rest easy.”
Matthew Costello, assistant director of the David M. Rubinstein National Center for White House History, said that in these events presidents get to lighten up and show “who they are as a person.”
Costello recalled how President Obama used to make what his daughters call “bad dad jokes” during these ceremonies, while Trump is more focused on how he’s covered in the press. “I think he sees it as an opportunity then to sort of tease and make fun of some of those things,” added Costello.
As far as Bread and Butter are concerned, both birds got to stay at a luxury hotel in Washington, D.C., prior to the pardoning, and will spend the rest of their lives at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Turkeys are a staple main dish for the American Thanksgiving holiday, which falls on the last Thursday of November. According to the White House Historical Association, pardoning them became a presidential tradition since George H. W. Bush in 1989 but the custom has earlier roots.
“A White House reporter in 1865 published a report about President Lincoln pardoning a turkey that he grew fond of,” said Costello. However, that turkey was headed to become Christmas dinner, not Thanksgiving.
The first turkey pardon on record was in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy received a turkey as a gift for Thanksgiving dinner but decided to let it live on Nov. 19. Three days later, the president was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
In 1987, President Ronald Reagan deflected questions about the Iran-Contra scandal and whether he would pardon the actors involved, Oliver North and John Poindexter.
“If they’d given me a different answer on Charlie and his future, I would have pardoned him,” Reagan said, referring to the bird.
Before its pardoning, turkeys have been sent as gifts to American presidents from as early as the 1870s, said Costello. In the early 1920s, there had been such a huge poultry influx that President Calvin Coolidge discouraged Americans from sending them. He received not only turkeys for dinner, but quail, ducks, geese, rabbits, deer, even a raccoon, which became a Coolidge family pet named Rebecca.
In recent years, the White House has turned the pardon to be a social media event and encouraged people to participate, including voting on the name via the online poll.
After pardoning the turkeys, Trump and first lady Melania Trump departed the White House to spend Thanksgiving holidays at his Florida golf resort, Mar-a-Lago.