Biden laughs off question about clemency for humans before pardoning turkeys

WASHINGTON — President Biden pardoned turkeys named “Peanut Butter” and “Jelly” Friday, continuing a pre-Thanksgiving tradition in the Rose Garden after he laughed off a question about whether he would also pardon human beings — as clemency advocates asked him to honor his pledge to free “everyone” in prison for marijuana offenses.

“Will you be pardoning any people in addition to turkeys?” The Post asked Biden as he returned to the White House after receiving a physical and colonoscopy at Walter Reed Medical Center outside Washington.

Biden, wearing aviator sunglasses, pointed at a reporter and joked, “Are you — you need a pardon?” In response to a follow-up question about whether he would free pot inmates, whom he vowed to release during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Biden said, “just turkeys.”

During the event, Biden kept up the presidential tradition of groan-worthy attempts at humor.

“As a University of Delaware man, I’m partial to blue hens,” Biden joked, making reference to his alma mater’s mascot.

President Joe Biden pardons Peanut Butter, the national Thanksgiving turkey, in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Susan Walsh/AP

Later in his remarks, Biden cracked that the birds had won “the turkey presidential primary” and said peanut butter and jelly were “what I like for lunch.”

The president added that meat industry reps had picked the lucky turkeys to be spared based on their “temperament, appearance and, I suspect, vaccination status.”

Biden then returned to the COVID-19 vaccine well for another joke, saying: “Instead of getting basted, these two turkeys are getting boosted!”

Then, appropriating a frequent line from his speeches about the social safety net, the president said he would look the turkeys in the eye and say “everything’s going to be OK”.

The lighthearted annual ceremony is salt in the wounds for prisoners who have held out hope that Biden would honor his commitment to free those jailed for marijuana crimes. Their supporters plan a weekend rally outside the White House urging clemency for humans.

The two national Thanksgiving turkeys, Peanut Butter and Jelly, are pictured here in front of the White House.
The two national Thanksgiving turkeys, Peanut Butter and Jelly, are pictured here in front of the White House.
Susan Walsh/AP

“I haven’t seen my family in years. And it’s discouraging to know that the president is going to pardon two turkeys while I struggle through this pandemic in an overcrowded prison,” said Luke Scarmazzo, 41, who has served 14 years of a 22-year sentence for running a medical marijuana operation in California.

“There are many cannabis prisoners that deserve to go home for the holidays, but instead we’re going to watch a couple turkeys go free.”

Weldon Angelos, a co-founder of the group Mission Green and an organizer of the weekend rally at the White House, told The Post that “we are urging the president to eat the turkeys this year and pardon people, especially those who are serving prison time for cannabis or living a second-class life because of a felony conviction while state after state continues to legalize and fattens the pockets of entrepreneurs.”

President Joe Biden pardons the national Thanksgiving turkey, Peanut Butter, in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021.
Biden was asked during the event if he would be pardoning any people in addition to the turkeys.
Alex Brandon/AP

Amy Povah, founder of the CAN-DO Foundation, which advocates for clemency for non-violent offenders, said, “Maybe it’s time to end the tradition of pardoning two birds every Thanksgiving holiday considering there are almost 18,000 pending clemency petitions consisting of many wonderful candidates who have served decades in prison, during a historic pandemic no less.”

“People like Pedro Moreno and Ismael Lira, both first-time offenders serving a life sentence without parole for marijuana,” Povah added. “We want the Biden administration to honor their promise on the campaign trail to free all cannabis prisoners.”

Lira, 44, and Moreno, 61, were convicted of distributing marijuana imported from Mexico and have federal sentences of life without parole.

Moreno told The Post, “I’ve spent a quarter of a century in prison as a first offender for marijuana. The only thing I want is to be with my family and end the suffering I’ve put my daughter, Alejandra, through. I want to bounce my grandkids on my knee and live a normal life with those I love.”

The two national Thanksgiving turkeys, Peanut Butter and Jelly, are photographed in the Rose Garden of the White House before a pardon ceremony in Washington, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021.
During the ceremony, Biden joked that the animals won a “turkey presidential primary.”
Susan Walsh/AP

Earlier this year, Lira wrote in an email from prison, “I believe President Biden truly sees the harm caused to the community of color, and I also believe President Biden will keep his promise to free all pot prisoners.”

As a senator, Biden authored some of the nation’s harshest drug laws, but he pivoted ahead of the 2020 election with promises of mass clemency.

“I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period,” Biden said during a 2019 debate. “And I think everyone – anyone who has a record – should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out.”

Advocates also want Biden to shorten the sentences of some people temporarily released from prison due to COVID-19 under the 2020 CARES Act.

In January, then-President Donald Trump commuted the sentences of seven people serving life terms for marijuana — including two men who were given life without parole under the three-strikes provision of the Biden-authored 1994 crime law.

White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and others listen as President Joe Biden speaks during a ceremony to pardon the national Thanksgiving turkey in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021.
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and others listen as President Joe Biden speaks during the turkey pardon ceremony.
Susan Walsh/AP

White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to say Friday when Biden might issue his first grants of presidential clemency.

“I have nothing new to update you on, but the president is of course looking to use his clemency powers. He’s talked about his approach or his view on nonviolent drug offenders,” she said. “But I don’t have anything to update you on, on that today.”

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