Obama pardons turkeys in Thanksgiving ritual at White House

Obama pardons turkeys in Thanksgiving ritual at White House
President Obama pardons Cheese, the National Thanksgiving Turkey, during the annual ceremony in the Grand Foyer of the White House on Nov. 26. (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images)

Cheese, a 49-pound, 36-inch-tall turkey with a gobble said to sound like a country twang, received a presidential pardon at the White House on Wednesday, saving him from a "terrible and delicious fate."

President Obama spared the bird as part of the annual presidential turkey pardon, a longtime Washington ritual that serves as a symbolic opener of the Thanksgiving holiday.


It was, Obama joked, one of his most high-profile actions in a month that has seen high political drama, including the president's unilateral overhaul of the immigration system.

"I'm here to announce what I'm sure will be the most-talked-about executive action this month," he said.

The public chose Cheese by popular vote as the official National Thanksgiving Turkey, although his partner Mac also traveled to Washington and will receive a pardon.

The two 20-week-old turkeys were provided by father and son turkey farmers from Ohio and named from suggestions by schoolchildren.

"Let's face it, if you're a turkey and you're named after a side dish, your chances of escaping Thanksgiving dinner are pretty low," Obama joked. "These guys really beat the odds."

Though presidents have received donated turkeys during Thanksgiving for decades, the turkey pardon itself, believed to have begun under President John F. Kennedy, became an annual event in President George H.W. Bush's White House.

The lighthearted ritual has not been without controversy. Animal rights group PETA routinely protests the event, which it says is offensive. Comedian John Oliver playfully teased the president this year as well, saying if one turkey is pardoned, all turkeys should be.

Obama joked that this pardon would also be controversial, in a nod to the debate over immigration.

"I know some will call this amnesty, but don't worry, there's plenty of turkey to go around," he said.

The president said he and his family would deliver dressed turkeys to a local food bank later Wednesday.

Mac and Cheese will retire to the historic Turkey Hill farm on the estate of former Virginia Gov. Westmoreland Davis.

Twitter: @mtthnsn