White House turkeys Honest and Abe can thank President Obama for his push to overhaul the criminal justice system. Obama officially “pardoned” Abe at an annual ceremony Wednesday in the Rose Garden.

“America is, after all, a country of second chances, and this turkey has earned a second chance to live out his life comfortably,” said Obama, who has pardoned more turkeys than humans this year.

“I’ve got to listen to my critics, who say I’m often too soft on turkeys,” he joked. “And I’m sure the press is digging into whether the turkeys I’ve pardoned have really rededicated their lives to being good turkey citizens.”


Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, stood at his side as they do every year. But instead of rolling their eyes at their dad’s turkey jokes, they smiled and laughed along with him.

“Abe is now a free bird. He is TOTUS — the Turkey of the United States,” a smiling Obama said. “Honest is in an undisclosed location, ready to serve in the TOTUS line of succession.”

The joke induced a few groans, including from the president himself, who remarked “Oh, boy.”

“OK, that’s funny,” Malia said.

Obama noted that the turkey pardon tradition, which began under President George H.W. Bush, is an odd one, and he expressed his genuine gratitude to his daughters for being there with him.

“They do this solely because it makes me feel good, not because they actually think that this is something I should be doing,” he said. “And as you get older, you appreciate how your kids indulge you like this.”

Obama said it’s hard to believe it’s the seventh time he’s pardoned a turkey.

“Time flies, even if turkeys don’t,” Obama said, drawing laughs from both his daughters.

The ceremony included its fair share of bizarre moments, including when Abe appeared to peck at White House political director David Simas.

"Simas is he attacking you? My political director is getting pecked,” the president said.

The president, who planned a trip to a Washington-area food bank later in the day to drop off some turkeys to eat, touched on some serious subjects too. He noted that this year’s Thanksgiving comes amid bleak headlines about terror attacks in Paris, Mali and Tunisia.

“So often the news of the day can make people discouraged. But the fact is we live in the greatest country on Earth,” he said. “And we are blessed in so many ways, most of all because we have families and friends and people we care about.”

This year, the White House allowed the public to vote on whether Honest or Abe would become the official National Thanksgiving Turkey (both will be allowed to retire to a Virginia farm). That gave the president a chance to take a jab at the 2016 presidential field.

“As you may have heard, for months there has been a fierce competition between a bunch of turkeys trying to win their way into the White House,” Obama said.

Obama also didn’t pass up a chance to weigh in on the Thanksgiving night football game between his hometown Chicago Bears and their rival, the Green Bay Packers.

“I’m also grateful for the fact the Bears are going to beat the Packers this weekend.”