Nov 26, 5:53 PM EST

Obama defends legal authority _ to pardon turkeys


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama has issued an executive action that some of his Republican opponents may be hard-pressed to disagree with - sparing Thanksgiving turkeys from the dinner table.

In the spirit of the holiday, Obama on Wednesday took "action fully within my legal authority, the same kind of action taken by Democrats and Republican presidents before me," to pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey, a 49-pound bird named Cheese. He also spared an alternate turkey, a 47-pounder named Mac. Both came from Cooper Farms in Oakwood, Ohio.

"If you're a turkey, and you're named after a side dish, your chances of escaping Thanksgiving dinner are pretty low," Obama said at the annual event, which drew international media coverage. He was accompanied by his daughters, Malia and Sasha, who declined his invitation to pet the birds. "No," Malia said.

The ceremony was moved indoors because of cold, wet weather that blanketed Washington.

"So these guys are well ahead of the curve. They really beat the odds," he said of Mac and Cheese.

Obama last week announced a series of highly anticipated executive actions immigration that have left Republicans crying "fowl."

Joking about his poultry action, Obama said: "I know some will call this amnesty. But don't worry. There's plenty of turkey to go around." Later Wednesday, Obama took his family to a neighborhood food pantry to donate a pair of turkeys "that didn't make the cut."

While there, Obama and his family handed out canned and fresh vegetables and bread to clients of Bread for the City, a center in southeast Washington that provides food, clothing and other services to the poor.

At the pardoning ceremony, Obama referenced news reports that questioned the wisdom of the turkey pardon tradition and said "it is a little puzzling that I do this every year." But Obama said he enjoys the tradition because "with all the tough stuff that swirls around in this office, it's nice once in a while just to say `Happy Thanksgiving,' and this is a great excuse to do it."

Presidents as far back as Abraham Lincoln spared turkeys, according to the White House. President George H.W. Bush granted the first turkey pardon in November 1989.

The pair of barrel-chested birds that Obama said he was sparing from a "terrible and delicious fate" will live the rest of their feathered days at Morven Park's Turkey Hill, a turkey farm in Leesburg, Virginia.

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