WASHINGTON – Barack Obama performed an annual rite of presidents on Wednesday, pardoning a pair of turkeys on Thanksgiving eve and cracking jokes about the competition that brought them to his famous doorstep.
"For the record, let me say that it feels pretty good to stop at least one shellacking this November," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden, where he was flanked by daughters Malia and Sasha. A "shellacking" is how Obama described the beating Democrats suffered in elections earlier this month; the party lost control of the House and saw its Senate majority trimmed by six seats.
Apple and Cider, two 21-week-old, 45-pound turkeys raised on a farm outside Modesto, Calif., were plucked from a group of 25 birds during a competition "that involved strutting their stuff before a panel of judges, with an eclectic mix of music playing in the background," Obama said.
He called it a "turkey version" of "Dancing with the Stars," the program that crowned its newest winner Tuesday night.
"Except the stakes for the contestants was much higher," Obama said, laughing. "Only one pair would survive and win the big prize. Life."
The president wished America's families, including many buffeted by the economic slump, a safe and happy holiday. He also thanked the men and women of the U.S. military for serving "bravely and selflessly" in places far away from home.
Afterward, Apple and Cider were to be driven to the home of George Washington, the nation's first president, in nearby Mount Vernon, Va. For the past five years, the presidentially pardoned turkeys had been sent to Disneyland in California, upsetting animal rights activists.
Later Wednesday, Obama and his family were delivering two turkeys less fortunate than Apple and Cider to Martha's Table, a local charity that feeds the hungry and provides other community services. A Pennsylvania turkey farm donated the birds.
The Obamas visited the charity last year, also on Thanksgiving eve, and helped hand out frozen turkeys, stuffing and other fixings to people standing in line.
They planned to spend Thanksgiving at the White House.
The White House tradition of turkey pardons, meanwhile, is more than six decades old.