President Obama’s decision to release his long form birth certificate comes amid Donald Trump’s three-ring circus on the issue, but prominent conservatives have flirted with the birther movement since its earliest inception. From insisting Obama release more records, to waffling on questions about his citizenship, to sponsoring legislation winking at conspiracy theorists, there’s been no shortage of birther curious behavior over the last several years.
TPM reached out to over 20 lawmakers and public figures who have indulged in such behavior to determine whether Obama’s release of the Rosetta stone of birtherism has settled the issue, receiving few responses.
TPM SLIDESHOW: There’s The Birth Certificate: TPM’s Best Of The BirthersSome members of Congress have explicitly questioned Obama’s citizenship — Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) told an interviewer last year he doesn’t know if Obama is a citizen or a Christian (but he does know he’s a socalist). Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) said on a radio show in 2009 he was unsure of the President’s citizenship. Others have been “birther curious,” suggesting that they take Obama at his word (a popular phrase), but they just wish he’d offer more proof. Example: Michele Bachmann (R-MN) who repeatedly called for President Obama to release his long form birth certificate just last week even as she said Americans should move on from the issue. TPM has reached out to all three members for comment on its release, but has yet to receive a response.
There are also “birther enablers,” lawmakers who deny questioning the President’s citizenship but are all too happy to humor their more conspiracy-minded constituents. Most notably are the backers — all Republican — of a bill in the last Congress that would require candidates to produce their birth certificates, a clear nod to birthers’ demands. TPM reached out to every sponsor as to whether the latest news puts the matter to rest, receiving only a handful of replies.
A spokesman for Rep Bill Posey (R-FL), who introduced the bill, e-mailed TPM that the Congressman had yet to read the full overage of Obama’s long form release, but sounded encouraged.
“I emailed him that the President had released a copy of his birth certificate and he wrote back ‘That’s great!'” the spokesman, George Cecala, said.
Another co-sponsor of the bill, Rep John Carter (R-TX), also praised Obama’s decision, albeit with a dig thrown in.
“With the posting of the original birth certificate, which was what was requested, the issue is apparently resolved,” a spokesman for Carter told TPM. “However, the Congressman is disappointed that the president took so long to do so when he could and should have done so up front when the issue was first raised.”
Carter’s poke at Obama for taking his time echoed quotes earlier in the day from Newt Gingrich, who told TPM, “All I would say is, why did it take so long?” Gingrich has not questioned Obama’s birthplace, but drew condemnations from the White House and others for accusing Obama of “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior,” which some considered a dogwhistle aimed at birthers.
A spokeswoman for co-sponsor Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) repeated his support for the legislation but did not make any reference to Obama.
“Congressman Culberson has always believed that any candidate running for federal office should be required to prove that they meet the requirements laid out in our Constitution,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Throughout our nation’s history, questions about presidential candidates’ citizenship have surfaced. H.R. 1503 was designed to prevent this question from arising in the future so we could focus on the important issues facing our nation.”
Another co-sponsor, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TX), reiterated that she never had doubts about Obama’s birthplace, but said she hoped the bill would help clear up the issue.
“I have never doubted that President Obama is a natural born citizen. Indeed, I agree with him that this issue has been a distraction from the important issues America faces; as it has been in several other elections in our history,” she told TPM in a statement. “I continue to believe that the best way to prevent this distraction from manifesting itself in future elections is to implement a standard of proof that all candidates must abide by when they pursue the office of President.”
In addition to the bill’s co-sponsors, TPM checked in with a number of politicians who have danced around the birther issue at times.
For example, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH), told a constituent pressing her on the birther issue that “I agree with you, but the courts don’t” before clarifying in a follow-up statement that she believed Obama was a citizen.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said that birthers “have a point” and that Obama needed to release more proof.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told FireDogLake in 2009 that Obama should produce his birth certificate and that birthers raised a “legitimate question,” while clarifying to reporters afterwards he believed Obama was born in America.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) said he had not “seen enough evidence” on way or the other on Obama’s birthplace in 2009.
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) was caught on tape telling constituents that he supported birther lawsuits, but denied that he had any doubt about President Obama’s legitimacy after the footage surfaced.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), then a congressman, wrote a letter to Obama in 2009 asking him to produce his birth certificate, while insisting he was not questioning the president’s birthplace himself. [Update: Deal responded to TPM through a spokesman, who said he is now only “focused on creating jobs.”]
None of the above lawmakers have responded.
Ryan Reilly and Evan McMorris-Santoro contributed additional reporting to this piece.