WASHINGTON — The first presidential pardon granted by President Donald Trump went to a sheriff convicted of criminal contempt for failing to heed a federal court order to cease a discriminatory practice of detaining suspected illegal immigrants.
The second went to a turkey named Drumstick.
“Over the past 10 months Melania and I have had the pleasure of welcoming many, many special visitors to the great White House,” Trump said in a ceremony in the Rose Garden Tuesday. “We have hosted dozens of incredible world leaders, members of Congress and, along the way, a few very strange birds. But we have yet to receive any visitors quite like our magnificent guest of honor today, Drumstick.”
He extended his arm toward the fowl with a grand flourish.
“Hi, Drumstick,” he said. “Oh, Drumstick, I think, is going to be very happy.”
The president was taking part in one of the White House’s longest running holiday traditions: The presentation — and more recently, the pardoning — of a turkey. This year’s bird was a 47-pound male raised in Western Minnesota. He was gifted the name Drumstick and, after winning a social media contest against the backup bird named Wishbone, was declared the National Thanksgiving Turkey.
Rather than become Thursday dinner, Drumstick and Wishbone will live out their predictably short lives at a facility at Virginia Tech, along with last year’s pardoned birds, Tater and Tot.
“As many of you know, I have been very active in overturning a number of executive actions by my predecessor,” Trump said. “However, I have been informed by the White House Counsel’s office that Tator and Tot’s pardons cannot under any circumstances be revoked. So, we’re not going to revoke them.”
The audience chuckled; Barron Trump, who stood beside his father, did not. When everyone clapped for the young women from the 4-H chapter who helped raise the birds, Barron kept his arms at his sides. Like Malia and Sasha Obama before him, he seemed unimpressed with his father’s jokes and with this nonsense entirely.
His father, however, appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself.
“Wow, wow, big bird! That’s a big bird,” Trump said as he approached the turkey, perched on a cloth-covered table. “Are we allowed to touch? Wow. I feel so good about myself doing this.”
Trump has, in recent days, shown a fondness for not killing animals. On Nov. 17, he halted a decision that would have lifted a ban on importing hunted elephant carcasses as trophies. His administration had already lifted a ban on importing lion carcasses last month — but, well, not a lot of people noticed. The elephants, in contrast, were showered with bipartisan outrage, after which the lifting of the ban was paused. Trump tweeted Sunday that he will make a decision about “this horror show” later in the week.
That decision will apparently be issued from Mar-a-Lago, his private Palm Beach club where the Trump family is scheduled to fly later Tuesday. Trump, who is said to prefer his meat well-done and doused in ketchup, will enjoy his turkey in “the Winter White House” on Thanksgiving Day, and will stay in south Florida through the weekend.
The presentation of a Thanksgiving turkey has been a presidential tradition for 70 years. Wars, recessions, elections, natural disasters — no matter the moment in history, the birds have made it to the White House. Until George H.W. Bush made the pardon an official ritual in 1989, the vast majority of the birds succumbed to the fate that some 46 million American turkeys meet every Thanksgiving: They were eaten.
On Drumstick’s day in the spotlight, President Trump had plans to speak on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his administration was likely to be reviewing the latest message from North Korea, published earlier in the day, which called Trump “an old lunatic, mean trickster and human reject.”
One could envision Drumstick’s forefathers looking down from a palatial sawdust pile in the sky, remembering their own places in history: The very first turkey gifted to a president by the National Turkey Federation, which Harry Truman ate in 1947 at the dawn of the Cold War. The turkey that ended up in the stomach of Richard Nixon in 1973, the week after he told America “I am not a crook.” The 1995 bird Bill Clinton called “the most multicolored best-looking turkey we’ve had here since I’ve been president,” the same month his relationship with Monica Lewinsky began.
Could those birds have imagined what was to come?
What does Drumstick know?
For now, he seemed only passingly aware that he was being patted by Tiffany Trump, and then patted by Ivanka Trump. Barron Trump was walking away. Cameras were flashing. Ivanka urged her 6-year-old daughter Arabella to inch a little closer to Drumstick. It seemed, for a moment, as if he was looking her in the eyes. She did not pat him. She did not eat him. And with that, the cameras turned off, and Drumstick was taken away.