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President Trump Pardons His First Turkey

Yes, this White House tradition happened again. The president pardoned a pair of turkeys Tuesday.

They have punny names again — "Wishbone" and "Drumstick."

"Drumstick, you are hearby pardoned," Trump said of the bird that was chosen to be at the ceremony.

Trump then applauded and Drumstick gobbled.

"We are here to continue a wonderful tradition," Trump said.

He also took a whack at another turkey pardon tradition — puns and jokes.

"As many of you know," Trump said, "I have been very active in overturning some of my predecessors executive actions," but, Trump added that the White House counsel had informed him that "Tater and Tot's pardons cannot under any circumstances be revoked. Tater and Tot, you can rest easy."

Tater and Tot were the turkeys pardoned by President Obama last year.

Trump also noted that he had welcomed many guests to the White House in his first several months as president, including "a few very strange birds," but not quite as unique as Wishbone and Drumstick.

The White House this year continued what's become an annual Twitter survey on which bird should stand for the ceremonial pardoning. (With more than 40,000 votes reported, Drumstick "won", 60 to 40 percent.)

But things on Twitter took a turn (as they often do). The replies, some of which are not appropriate for polite company, were sharp.

This event has a long history with lots of myths and misconceptions. President Bill Clinton once claimed Harry Truman was the first to pardon a turkey. But that wasn't true.

Truman was the first to receive a turkey from the National Turkey Federation in 1947, but the Truman Presidential Library says Truman ate those turkeys.

In fact, that was always the point. President Trump got it right.

"Seventy years ago the National Turkey Federation presented the first National Turkey to President Truman," Trump noted. "He did not grant the pardon. He refused. He was a tough cookie. Today, I'm going to be a much nicer president."

This idea of "pardoning" the birds is actually a relatively new phenomenon, one that began when Ronald Reagan was trying to deflect a question about possibly pardoning two key figures in the Iran-Contra scandal 30 years ago.

Trump did err in one line. He said that Drumstick has a "very, very bright future ahead of him."

Tater and Tot are still alive at Virginia Tech, where Wishbone and Drumstick are headed, too, but, because these turkeys are bred to be eaten, they generally don't live very long.

For more on the turkey pardon history, check out this explainer from NPR's Newstime:

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.