Trump skips turkey jokes, gives thanks for COVID-19 vaccines

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Nostalgia was in and jokes were out Tuesday as President Donald Trump offered a reprieve to a pair of meaty turkeys at the traditional Thanksgiving turkey pardon ceremony at the White House.

The National Turkey Federation presented the White House with two birds, Corn and Cob. Corn was declared the national Thanksgiving turkey, though both will retire to a new home on the campus of Iowa State University.

It’s not the first time the typically light-hearted turkey pardon ceremony has taken place in a tense time for the nation.

This time, the ceremony came amid a global pandemic and as Trump refuses to concede he lost his reelection bid. In his remarks, Trump cited the vaccines that could soon receive emergency approval from U.S. regulators.

“We give thanks for the vaccines and therapies that will soon end the pandemic," Trump said at one point. He did not reference the recent surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases in many parts of the country.

The turkey pardon ceremony came just a few hours after President-elect Joe Biden announced his national security team and emphasized the need to work with allies. Trump worked into his remarks a familiar refrain of his presidency: “America first -- shouldn’t go away from that," he said.

Trump did not take questions from reporters as he spoke in the Rose Garden to more than 100 staff and guests, the vast majority wearing masks. His tone was more serious than in prior turkey pardon ceremonies.

Trump used last year’s pardon to make jokes about the impeachment process. The House would go on to approve two articles of impeachment the next month and the Senate would subsequently vote to acquit him.

In 2018, Trump joked about one of the turkeys contesting the election. The scenario he described bears a striking resemblance to the one he faces today.

“This was a fair election,” the president joked two years ago. “Unfortunately, Carrots refused to concede and demanded a recount, and we’re still fighting with Carrots. But I will tell you, we’ve come to a conclusion. Carrots. I’m sorry to tell you, the result did not change. That’s too bad for Carrots.”

The practice of sending a turkey to a farm became the norm under President Ronald Reagan. George H.W. Bush established the annual turkey pardon tradition in 1989 by sparing a 50-pound (23-kilogram) bird as animal rights activists picketed nearby.