WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama pardoned the national Thanksgiving turkey with a smile on Wednesday, but he admitted before saving the bird from it’s likely demise that he found the decades-old tradition somewhat “puzzling.”
“It is a little puzzling that I do this every year, but I will say that I enjoy it because with all the tough stuff that swirls around in this office it’s nice once in a while just to say, ‘Happy Thanksgiving,'” he said.
And with a wink and a nod, the president also made joking reference to the controversy dogging his administration over his unilateral move to offer protection from deportation to some 5 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
“I am here to announce what I’m sure will be the most talked about executive action this month. Today I am taking an action that is fully within my legal authority,” he said to laughter from the crowd, in reference not to the immigration move, but the turkey pardon.
Joined by his teenage daughters, Obama went on to pardon Cheese, the turkey chosen by Americans as this year’s national Thanksgiving turkey via Twitter.
The nearly 50-pound snow-white turkey calmly accepted the president’s pardon as flashbulbs burst and officials looked on.
Cheese and his alternate turkey, Mac, were both raised by National Turkey Federation Chairman Gary Cooper’s son Cole, both of whom were in attendance at the ceremony Wednesday.
The two 20-week-old turkeys will enjoy a much more tranquil Thanksgiving than many of their fellow fowl, as they’re headed to “Turkey Hill” the historic turkey farm at Morven Park, the Leesburg, Va., home of former Virginia Gov. Westmoreland Davis, according to the White House.
There, they’ll be on display for visitors seeking a second-degree brush with the president.
Though the event is meant as an opportunity for the president to express a bit of Thanksgiving cheer, it’s not without controversy. Earlier this month, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called on Obama’s daughters to encourage their father to end the “offensive turkey pardon” and go vegan for the holiday.
But the tradition, which the National Turkey Federation says has been around since President Harry Truman, went on. Obama will also volunteer with his family on Wednesday, another longstanding presidential Thanksgiving tradition.
Other elected officials got in the spirit of the holiday on Wednesday, tweeting out their favorite Thanksgiving recipes. House Speaker John Boehner revealed the details of his special “Boehner Brine,” while Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted her family’s chocolate mousse recipe.