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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday pardoned a turkey named Cheese to mark the country's Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, when roasted turkey is the traditional main course.
Obama, in a light-hearted ceremony before a small group of White House visitors, said that pardoning Cheese would surely be the "most talked-about executive action" he has taken this month.
"Today I am taking an action fully within my legal authority, an executive action taken by Democrat and Republican presidents before me, to spare the lives of two turkeys, Mac and Cheese," Obama said.
Obama's remarks, which referenced his announcement last week that he would take action to defer deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants, drew laughter from the crowd.
Though Cheese alone is the National Thanksgiving Turkey, he will be joined by Mac at Morven Park's Turkey Hill, the former home of a Virginia governor. There, the two birds will enjoy a form of amnesty, Obama said.
U.S. presidents have been pardoning turkeys since the 1800s. Starting in 2012, the top turkey has been chosen by a public vote.
The White House said that Mac and Cheese were "beak-to-beak" on Twitter in the days leading up to the pardon as users weighed in on which bird should receive the official pardon.
Mac and Cheese are males born in July that hail from Cooper Farms in Oakwood, Ohio.
Mac is a "feather shaker" who weighs in a 47 pounds and boasts a melodious gobble that has a hint of bluegrass, #TeamMac supporters within the White House said.
Cheese is a "grand champion" who weights in at 49 pounds and has a gobble that manages to be both romantic and has a country ring, #TeamCheese White House aides said.
The chairman of the National Turkey Federation, Gary Cooper of Ft. Recovery, Ohio, was at the pardoning ceremony, along with seven family members. Cooper's son raised Mac and Cheese without antibiotics.
Mac and Cheese will now leave their room at the posh Willard InterContinental Hotel near the White House, where they awaited their fate, and travel to the farm in Leesburg, Virginia, where they will receive visitors.
Two additional turkeys were presented to the First Family by Jaindl's Turkey Farm in Pennsylvania. Those birds will be donated to a Washington-area food bank for the holiday.
Reporting By Amanda Becker; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Steve Orlofsky