President Joe Biden on Monday granted executive clemency to Chocolate and Chip, a pair of turkeys who would have otherwise faced the death penalty but will now live out their lives as guests of the North Carolina State University’s poultry science program.
The turkeys, both of whom hail from the Tar Heel State, were pardoned during a ceremony on the South Lawn, a tradition that dates back to the administration of Abraham Lincoln. Their names were chosen by an annual contest, though Mr Biden quipped that they could have easily been named “Chips” and “Science” — a reference to the landmark semiconductor production bill he signed into law earlier this year.
The president said the contest to choose the birds’ names had gone smoothly and wasn’t marred by any sort of electoral fraud.
“First of all, the votes are in, they’ve been counted and verified. There's no ballot stuffing, there's no foul play,” he said, adding that the only “red wave” at the White House during the Thanksgiving season would be the result of his German Shepherd, Commander, knocking cranberry sauce off of the table during dinner. The line was a reference to Republican speculation that their party would sweep the midterm elections, which they failed to do.
Commander, who watched the ceremony from the Truman Balcony overlooking the South Lawn, later barked approvingly as the president continued speaking.
Mr Biden did not specify what crimes either bird had been accused of committing, but US law allows the federal government to seek the death penalty in certain murder, drug trafficking, terrorism and espionage cases.
The president said he was granting the turkeys unconditional pardons “based on their temperament and commitment to being productive members of society”.
Earlier this year, Mr Biden also issued a sweeping pardon to all US citizens and permanent residents who had been convicted of simple marijuana possession. He also issued three pardons and 75 sentence commutations in April, including a pardon to Abraham Bolden, the first Black US Secret Service agent to serve on a presidential security detail.
Mr Bolden had spent 39 months in prison in the 1960s after a jury convicted him of soliciting a bribe in exchange for providing a Secret Service investigative file to a counterfeiter who he’d been investigating.
The president closed his remarks by noting that the US tradition of Thanksgiving is “all about being grateful for what we have and grateful for fellow Americans who we may never meet,” including the “scientists and researchers, doctors and nurses keeping us safe through the pandemic,” and urged Americans to get the most updated Covid-19 vaccines which are now widely available.