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Posted at 4:27 PM ET, 01/26/2011

Where did Obama's salmon joke come from?

By Ed O'Keefe and Karen Tumulty



Word cloud courtesy of NPR.org

President Obama's State of the Union address focused primarily on winning the future, competitiveness and "sustaining the American dream."

But all anyone seems to remember is the salmon.

Talking about an urgent need to reorganize the federal government, Obama noted that "The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they're in saltwater. I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked."

The joke earned one of the biggest laughs of the night and has since dominated TV news recaps of the speech. It also appears to be the most well-remembered moment of the night among Americans who watched, at least according to the NPR word cloud above.

So who came up with the joke? We're told it was newly minted White House Chief of Staff William M. Daley, who, as a former commerce secretary, "knows a thing or two about this," according to a senior administration aide.

Administration officials reminded reporters Wednesday that the Commerce Department is responsible for salmon fisheries while the Interior Department operates salmon hatcheries in fresh water and deals with salmon habitats along freshwater streams. Both are now working more closely to coordinate their efforts, the officials said.

Current Commerce Secretary Gary Locke attended Tuesday's speech, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar skipped it because he was chosen to serve as the Cabinet's "designated survivor."

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

VIDEO OF OBAMA'S SALMON JOKE:

By Ed O'Keefe and Karen Tumulty  | January 26, 2011; 4:27 PM ET
Categories:  Administration  
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Comments

The joke sounds pretty funny the way the President told it. But there's a simple, rational reason for why two agencies are handling salmon. Fish that are in domestic waters are handled by the Interior Dept. and fish that are in international waters are handled by the Commerce Dept. Other countries like Canada and Mexico compete for the fish that are in international waters and so the agency that has the authority and expertise in dealing with foreign nations handles that and other issues relating to international waters.

Posted by: CBS64 | January 26, 2011 5:00 PM | Report abuse

mmmm. A sort of a red salmon?

Posted by: wallace2 | January 26, 2011 5:04 PM | Report abuse

mmmm. A sort of a red salmon?

Posted by: wallace2 | January 26, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Then there is the State Fish and Game Department.

Posted by: WmLaney | January 26, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

So, Wallace, you related to George? Your stupid "red" comment marks you a Dixiecrat who wouldn't know a socialist from a Presbyterian. Or a Glen Beck want to be who confuses socialist, communist, nazi and doesn't have a clue what's in the Constitution.

Posted by: roscym1 | January 26, 2011 5:11 PM | Report abuse

roscym1, while i appreciate your springing to the president's defense, in this case i think you simply missed the joke. wallace2 was referring to a "red herring

Posted by: j24w | January 26, 2011 5:38 PM | Report abuse

roscym1, while i appreciate your springing to the president's defense, in this case i think you simply missed the joke. wallace2 was referring to a "red herring". i don't know if wallace2 meant this as a criticism of Mr. Obama, but either way it's a funny line.
let's try to lighten up a little among ourselves here.

Posted by: j24w | January 26, 2011 5:39 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: roscym1
So, Wallace, you related to George? Your stupid "red" comment marks you a Dixiecrat who wouldn't know a socialist from a Presbyterian. Or a Glen Beck want to be who confuses socialist, communist, nazi and doesn't have a clue what's in the Constitution.

roscym1 you should get out and read more often. For your edificantion the following is a defination of a RED Salmon

Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka), also called red salmon or blueback salmon in the USA, is an anadromous species of salmon found in the Northern Pacific Ocean and rivers discharging into it. There are also completely landlocked populations of the same species, which are known as the kokanee. Sockeye salmon is the third most common Pacific salmon species, after pink and chum salmon.[2] The name "sockeye" is believed to be a folk adaptation of the anglicization of sθə́qəy̓, its name in Halkomelem, the language of the indigenous people along the lower reaches of the Fraser River.

Posted by: zebra59 | January 26, 2011 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Well, at least the salmon story didn't fall as flat as the lame joke about flying an airplane after tossing the engine to save weight. That one was embarrassing!

Posted by: OldUncleTom | January 26, 2011 5:47 PM | Report abuse


I get the dichotomy of freshwater vs. saltwater and who's in charge where. But can anyone explain the part about things getting more complicated once they're smoked? Is there a joke in there that I can't figure out? Thanks.

Posted by: MadamDeb | January 26, 2011 5:50 PM | Report abuse

If you batter the salmon the ASPCA gets involved.

Posted by: PaKo7 | January 26, 2011 6:00 PM | Report abuse

That was the big laugh that Obama got during the speech? The response from the assembled crowd was a polite chucke, certainly not a belly laugh. Here's Obama talking to a world of Donk Wonks about how he's going to streamline the government, maybe forcing some of them to look for jobs in the...

in the...

PRIVATE SECTOR. Where as everyone knows, they'll have a better chance of surviving, right?

Obama's not funny and government regulatory types don't have a funny bone in their bodies, particularly when the President and leader of the Democratic Party starts talking about streamlining their jobs in the SOTU speech. They're the only thing keeping his Presidency going!

Posted by: Extempraneous | January 26, 2011 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Salmon is the predominant religion of the Northwest. Old growth forests are the churches. This was just a promise to protect Freedom of Religion.

Posted by: thebobbob | January 26, 2011 6:29 PM | Report abuse

MadamDeb queries: "...[C]an anyone explain the part about things getting more complicated once they're smoked? Is there a joke in there that I can't figure out?"

This is merely a guess, as I am nowhere near "in the loop", but...

If we think of "smoked salmon" in its usual sense, as prepared food ready for sale, I would think that the USDA would have jurisdiction. If we focus on the "smoked" part alone, a la cigarettes (silly, but note that Obama is a cigarette smoker), then the FDA and/or BATF would control, I believe. And if we go even farther afield, and think of other substances that can be "smoked", BATF and DOJ would come into play. Get the idea?

Just my 2c.

Posted by: nan_lynn | January 26, 2011 6:37 PM | Report abuse

MadamDeb queries: "...[C]an anyone explain the part about things getting more complicated once they're smoked? Is there a joke in there that I can't figure out?"

This is merely a guess, as I am nowhere near "in the loop", but...

If we think of "smoked salmon" in its usual sense, as prepared food ready for sale, I would think that the USDA would have jurisdiction. If we focus on the "smoked" part alone, a la cigarettes (silly, but note that Obama is a cigarette smoker), then the FDA and/or BATF would control, I believe. And if we go even farther afield, and think of other substances that can be "smoked", BATF and DOJ would come into play. Get the idea?

Not a particularly good joke, but a joke nonetheless. (Just my 2c.)

Posted by: nan_lynn | January 26, 2011 6:38 PM | Report abuse


Thanks, nan_lynn, for that explanation. It's as good as any other one would be.

Posted by: MadamDeb | January 26, 2011 8:17 PM | Report abuse

I doubt the President actually had this in mind, but the rules for "smoked" fish intended for human consumption are set by the FDA. There is a series of court cases involving the process used by the FDA to arrive at the tempature "smoked" fish must reach in order to be sold in the United States. The rules are in fact quite detailed.

Posted by: js2968a | January 26, 2011 8:30 PM | Report abuse

I smoked that salmon but I didn't inhale.

Posted by: HookedOnThePost | January 26, 2011 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Isn't "smoked salmon" the secret service code name for John Boehner?

Posted by: Prosper0 | January 26, 2011 9:32 PM | Report abuse

Yet another lame arsed joke, I thought he was in charge of the executive branch. Kind of like his quip about so many agencies dealing with exports. Do you want the agency that regulates the export of nuclear material also regulating the export of Florida oranges? Sometimes apples and oranges belong in different baskets. Plays well to the folk in Peoria, shows a lack of leadership.

Posted by: crete | January 26, 2011 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Wow so with bug storm you arebnot posting upf
Dates on what is going on...come on!

Posted by: SkinsForever22044 | January 26, 2011 10:38 PM | Report abuse

One Cold and Slimy Fish, commenting on another. Some Joke . I use to think he missed his calling and should have been a stand-up comic. But unless you are a Masochist, there's nothing funny about watching your Nation die a slow death under the guidance of a dolt that doesn't have the common sense of an ant.

Posted by: puck-101 | January 27, 2011 4:19 AM | Report abuse

I wish he or someone would write him a line that could stand up in history.Even if he has to borrow from another source.
John Kennedy is remembered for a line he adapted from a college professor ("Ask not..",Robert Kennedy is often remembered for the lines from a poet.(Some people ask why,I ask why not.. )

Posted by: gentlestar | January 27, 2011 7:38 AM | Report abuse

I wish he or someone would write him a line that could stand up in history.Even if he has to borrow from another source.
John Kennedy is remembered for a line he adapted from a college professor ("Ask not..",Robert Kennedy is often remembered for the lines from a poet.(Some people ask why,I ask why not.. )

Posted by: gentlestar | January 27, 2011 7:41 AM | Report abuse

Articles like this make me want to puke. Obama's a joke and pretty much everybody in that room is a joke. There's nothing funny about anything those idiots are doing.

Posted by: peterg73 | January 27, 2011 12:43 PM | Report abuse

This is the only thing even close to humor I have heard from him. The very nature of his State of the Union Message will drive the national debt even higher.

Posted by: donc711 | January 27, 2011 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Thought everyone might want to check out this response to Obama's statement about smoked salmon: http://www.bradleysmoker.com/departmentofsmokedsalmon

Seems this company wants to end the confusion about what happens when salmon is smoked. Funny stuff!

Posted by: salmonsmoker | February 1, 2011 2:59 PM | Report abuse

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