Two Ohio Republicans this weekend made birther jokes questioning President Obama’s citizenship status at a local fundraising dinner starring Senate candidate and former Bush administration official Rob Portman.
Master of ceremonies and former state Rep. Jim Buchy, president of Buchy Food Service, opened his remarks at the Darke County Lincoln Day Dinner Saturday with a comparison between Obama and the 16th president.
According to audio recorded by someone at the dinner and obtained by TPMDC, the joke concludes with: “Lincoln was a skinny lawyer. Obama is a skinny lawyer. Lincoln was a Republican. Obama is a skinny lawyer. Lincoln was highly respected. Obama is a skinny lawyer. Lincoln was born in the United States. Obama is a skinny lawyer.”That was followed up with a more subtle crack from State Rep. James Zehringer, who said he read over Portman’s Wikipedia entry, which starts by identifying him as an American lawyer. “Rob Portman is an American lawyer. That’s the first sentence [on his Wikipedia page]. That’s something our president can’t say,” Zehringer said.
Listen, and notice the jokes aren’t well received:
The punchline: Buchy’s particular birther joke isn’t even original. It’s one that has made the rounds via email and in conservative circles since Obama took office.
A Portman spokeswoman called the remarks “inappropriate” when asked by TPMDC about her boss’ reaction, but also dismissed the questions as silly.
“The comments were inappropriate, but it’s unfortunate that all Democrats have to offer are cheap political attacks meant to distract people from the economic serious challenges we’re facing in Ohio. Rob Portman will continue to focus on developing solutions to help Ohioans get back to work,” said spokeswoman Jessica Towhey.
Democrats say Portman should have denounced the remarks when he took the podium, while Republicans say it is making a mountain out of a molehill. But the incident illustrates the fine line the GOP is walking – many Republicans have rejected similar comments coming from the fringe, while others openly question if birthers have a point. It’s obvious from the audio the crowd isn’t laughing along with Buchy, and Democrats have said they want to pin GOP candidates down on the question of whether or not they believe Obama is a citizen.
In a brief interview today, Zehringer said he didn’t remember making the quip, but added that the spirit of the dinner was one of playful “teasing.”
“There was a lot of teasing going on. I don’t know if I said that. If I did, I’m not going to lie about it,” Zehringer said. “There were some things said in jest.”
He said he was more marveling at the Wikipedia entry about Portman being an American lawyer since he’d “never heard that term before.”
“Isn’t it great that we live in a country where we can laugh?” Zehringer wrote me in an email after our interview.
Buchy didn’t return our calls. TPMDC also spoke today with local GOP official Margaret Muhlenkamp, who declined to comment about the birther jokes beyond asking, “Is there a law against it?”
The Democrats have been going after groups Portman has spoken to. According to Politico, among the questions circulated on a Democratic memo that details how to divide moderate Republicans from the far right-wing: “Do you believe that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen?”