Trump, who has stayed mostly out of public view since the election, pardoned Corn during a ceremony at the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday

By Virginia Chamlee
November 24, 2020 04:35 PM
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First Lady Melania Trump (right) looks on as President Donald Trump (center) gives Corn the turkey a presidential pardon during the traditional event in the Rose Garden of the White House on Tuesday.
| Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

In one of the final formal traditions of his current tenure as president, Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a full "pardon" to a turkey named Corn, at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.

Calling Corn and his alternate, Cob, "some real beauties," a noticeably chipper Trump said the turkeys would now "retire under the care of skilled veterinarians."

Trump, with First Lady Melania Trump at his side, wished both birds "a very long, happy and memorable life."

"Look at that beautiful, beautiful bird – so lucky. That is a lucky bird," said the president, who has largely remained out of sight since the Nov. 3 election, as Corn was placed on a decorated table for photos.

"Corn, I hereby grant you a full pardon. Thank you, Corn," Trump added, briefly petting the bird.

Corn could be seen letting out a loud gobble as the Trumps then headed back into the White House.

The ceremonial pardoning of the turkey is a White House tradition that dates back to 1989, when then-President George H. W. Bush jokingly quipped that a turkey presented to him would be "granted a presidential pardon as of right now," according to the White House Historical Association.

This year's presidential turkeys arrived in the nation's capital from Iowa on Monday, spending their brief vacation in style at Washington, D.C.'s Willard InterContinental Hotel.

While social media users could vote via Twitter poll on which turkey would officially receive the pardon, both Corn and Cob are set to live out their remaining days at Iowa State University's forthcoming state-of-the-art turkey production facility.

Though an otherwise minor American formality, the turkey pardon provided a decided bit of normalcy amidst an otherwise tumultuous time for the White House.

Trump — though he has been bellowing on Twitter that he did in fact win the very election that he lost — spoke from the Rose Garden on Tuesday of "perseverance and triumph, determination and strength, loyalty and faith."

"On behalf of the entire Trump family, I want to wish every American a healthy and very happy Thanksgiving," he said.

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In the last weeks of his presidency, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, Trump has largely not left the White House since Nov. 3 — refusing to concede defeat to Joe Biden while he and his allies mounted a series of unsuccessful legal challenges to the results.

Some supporters, including his family, suggested Republican lawmakers should step in and toss out the election so he could get a second term.

On Monday, Trump appeared to partially acknowledge his defeat, writing on Twitter that he supported the federal General Services Administration's decision to fully implement a Biden transition. Still, he tweeted, "we will keep up the good fight."

In addition to presiding over the turkey pardon, the president made another and more unexpected public appearance on Tuesday.

Roughly an hour before the pardoning ceremony, Trump made a short speech in front of reporters in the White House briefing room after the Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed 30,000 for the first time.

“That is a sacred number,” he said. “Nobody thought they'd ever see it.” (Trump previously claimed that if Biden were elected over him, the stock market would suffer.)

He did not take questions — but he did manage to get a few digs in at his critics.

President Donald Trump (center) pardons Peas the turkey in the Rose Garden at the White House on Nov. 20, 2018.
| Credit: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty

During the turkey pardon, Trump thanked healthcare workers for their pandemic response while also blaming China for the novel coronavirus, which he referred to as the "China virus," a phrase his own officials have recommended against using because of its racist overtones.

He also made a seeming reference to his "America first" platform after his former Secretary of State James Mattis wrote in an op-ed this week that president-elect Biden should abandon such policies.

"We send our love to every member of the armed forces and the law enforcement heroes risking their lives to keep American safe. To keep America great. And as I say, 'America first,' " Trump said. "We shouldn't go away from that — America first."

The pardon of Corn likely won't go down in history as one of Trump's most controversial commutations.

In July, he commuted the sentence of former campaign adviser Roger Stone, a self-described "dirty trickster" or politics, who was days away from serving a 40-month federal prison sentence for lying to federal investigators and impeding a congressional inquiry.

Departing presidents have a history of exercising their pardon power.

Questions remain as to whether Trump, who leaves office on Jan. 20, might pardon other allies or even whether he might (or legally could) pardon himself.