WASHINGTON — With a wave of his hand, President Barack Obama on Wednesday gave two plump turkeys a Thanksgiving reprieve, noting that without his intervention, "they'd end up next to the mashed potatoes and stuffing."
The official national Thanksgiving turkey is a 19-week-old, 45-pound bird named Liberty. Its alternate, also spared, is a turkey of the same age and size named Peace.
Liberty sat calmly as Obama, accompanied by daughters Sasha and Malia, offered a blessing, his hand over the turkey's head. Obama said Liberty had the distinction of being "the luckiest bird on the face of the earth."
"Right now, he's also probably one of the most confused," Obama said.
Obama jokingly cast his pardon as yet another of his "We Can't Wait" initiatives. "Recently, I've been taking a series of executive actions that don't require congressional approval," the president said. "Well, here's another one. We can't wait to pardon these turkeys."
In a more sober tone, Obama called on Americans to remember the meaning of Thanksgiving and to be mindful of those who have less.
"Let's think about those who can't spend the holiday with their loved ones, especially the members of our military serving overseas," he said. "I'd like to thank all our men and women in uniform, and their families, for their incredible service and devotion."
Later Wednesday, the president, his daughters, first lady Michelle Obama, her mother, Marian Robinson, and her nephew Avery Robinson delivered two not-so-lucky birds to the Capital Area Food Bank, a local food pantry where the first family was packing and distributing food bags for people in need.
The president doled out packets of baby carrots as he exchanged "Happy Thanksgiving" greetings and small talk with patrons. Sasha, at Obama's side, handed out small boxes of White House M&Ms.
The family was accompanied by players from the Oregon State basketball team, which is coached by the first lady's brother, Craig Robinson. The team is in the Washington area to play Towson University, near Baltimore, on Saturday.
Liberty and Peace were selected from among 30 turkeys raised and groomed by student members of the Future Farmers of America in Willmar, Minn., for a potential presidential amnesty.
The birds' home state of Minnesota will surely spur analysis about the value of sparing turkeys from a political battleground state ahead of an election year. But the motives might be simpler – Minnesota produces more turkeys than any other U.S. state.
Obama said the students trained the turkeys to face the White House press corps by exposing them to loud noises and flash bulbs.
"They also received the most important part of their media training, which involved learning how to gobble without really saying anything," he said.
Liberty and Peace will retire to the historic home of George Washington in nearby Mount Vernon, Va. Obama said Liberty first will have to finish "a round of cable hits and Sunday shows."
The turkeys will endure further celebrity during "Christmas at Mount Vernon," a special program that runs through Jan. 6. Following the holidays, the two birds will live in a custom-made enclosure at Mount Vernon's livestock facility.
The birds are larger than the average U.S.-bred turkey. According to the Agriculture Department, the U.S. turkey industry produces more than 250 million birds a year, with each live bird averaging about 25 pounds.
Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.