White House senior adviser Jared Kushner refused to say on Friday whether or not the Trump campaign accepts that Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris is an eligible candidate for vice president following remarks by President Donald Trump on Thursday that she may not “meet the requirements.”
The President had claimed during a news conference on Thursday that he had heard a rumor that Harris — a U.S.-born citizen — may not have been born in the United States.
During a CBS interview on Friday morning, Kushner, who is also the President’s son-in-law, would not formally reject the racist conspiracy that Trump appeared to encourage the day before.
Do you accept that @KamalaHarris is a qualified candidate? — @AnthonyMasonCBS
"I personally have no reason to believe she's not but again my focus for the last 24 hours has been on the historic peace deal" — @jaredkushner
"She was born in Oakland, CA" — Mason
"Yeah" — Kushner pic.twitter.com/rqV7zK4t4z
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) August 14, 2020
“He just said that he had no idea whether that’s right or wrong,” Kushner said when asked during a CBS interview whether the Trump campaign accepted Harris’ candidacy as legitimate.
When asked on Thursday about Harris’ eligibility to serve as vice president, Trump appeared to defer to a Newsweek op-ed by the conservative lawyer John Eastman who suggested, with regard to Harris, whose parents hail from Jamaica and India, that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t grant birthright citizenship.
“I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” Trump said, adding he had “no idea” if the claim was correct.
Trump called the claims peddled by the theory “very serious” and said that he held Eastman, the op-ed’s author, in high esteem, calling him a “very highly qualified and very talented lawyer.”
When CBS News anchor Anthony Mason pressed Kushner on the matter Friday, Kushner said that he “personally had no reason” to believe that Harris was ineligible, without outright rejecting the claim as false.
The false and racist theory is reminiscent of a line of attack used by the President to discredit his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, who Trump suggested was born in Kenya, when in fact Obama was born in Hawaii.
Perhaps even more problematic than the theory itself, which a Trump campaign legal adviser and many Trump followers posted to social media following the op-ed’s publication, is the President and his staff’s refusal to denounce the claims as false.
Kushner told Mason that the President had said he had “no idea” about whether or not the theory was true, which Kushner said he didn’t see “as promoting it.”
But in 2008, the now late-Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who vied for the presidency against then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, did not hesitate to publicly reject false claims amid growing anti-Arab prejudice around the country, when suggestions emerged that his opponent was “Arab.” McCain defended Obama even as crowds booed at a town hall meeting in Minnesota calling the Democratic candidate a “liar” and a “terrorist.”
“I want to fight, and I will fight,” McCain said at the time. “But I will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, and I will respect him.”
McCain’s refusal in that moment to leverage a racist tactic to support his presidential bid is a far-cry from the race-baiting campaign that Trump made a hallmark of mobilizing his base in 2016 and appears to have relaunched as he advances falsehood regarding Kamala Harris in the 2020 election.