President Barack Obama yesterday sought to end persistent questions from some political opponents about his birthplace by releasing a copy of his long-form birth certificate and decrying the “silliness” of the controversy.
Obama said the issue should have been considered settled during the 2008 campaign and that he has been “puzzled at the degree to which this thing just kept on going,” even as the U.S. faces debates over such matters as the federal debt.
“We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers,” Obama said at the White House, without naming anyone. “We do not have time for this kind of silliness.”
The president’s aides said they released the documents because, although the controversy might help Obama politically going into his 2012 re-election campaign by tinting those focused on it, the matter was diverting attention from discussions on the nation’s economy and fiscal future.
The issue of whether the president was born in the U.S. and therefore constitutionally eligible to serve as president recently has been revived, in part, by developer Donald Trump, who is considering a 2012 presidential bid as a Republican. In addition, several states have been considering legislation that would require political candidates to present birth certificates to qualify for office.
Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, said the “fake controversy” over where Obama was born had “transcended from the nether regions of the Internet into mainstream political debate.”
It probably is in Obama’s “long-term political interests to allow this birther debate to dominate discussion in the Republican Party for months to come,” Pfeiffer said at a briefing. “But he thought even though it might have been good politics, he thought it was bad for the country.”
Linda Fowler, professor of government at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, said the issue may have benefited the administration by making it appear that Obama’s opponents who are raising the questions weren’t credible.
“It has become an important part of the fight between Democrats and Republicans over independent voters, who I think look with a lot of dismay at the whole birther movement, and what it implies, and this is the key demographic that both parties are going to try to win,” Fowler said.
In a televised news conference yesterday in New Hampshire, which traditionally holds the nation’s first presidential primary, Trump took credit for forcing Obama’s hand.
He said his questions “accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish” in causing Obama to release the document. “I’m really honored, frankly, to have played such a big role in hopefully, hopefully, getting rid of this issue,” he said.
Still, he said, the document will have to be examined. “But I hope it’s true,” he said.
Other Republicans have been distancing themselves from the questions about Obama’s birthplace.
“This issue is a distraction,” Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in an e-mailed statement. Obama “ought to spend his time getting serious about repairing our economy, working with Republicans and focusing on the long-term sustainability of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”
Obama said he expected the questions won’t be put fully to rest by release of the birth certificate and correspondence with a state official in Hawaii, which were posted on the White House website.
“Now, I know that there’s going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest,” Obama said.
Ed Goeas, head of Republican polling firm the Tarrance Group, said release of the document would do little to convince skeptical Republican voters, who will question why it took Obama 2 1/2 years to release the document.
“He’s the one that has let this fester out there,” Goeas said.
A USA Today/Gallup poll published April 26 showed that 43 percent of those who identified themselves as Republicans said they thought the president was born abroad. Among all Americans, 38 percent said they believe Obama was born in the U.S., and 18 percent said he probably was, while 15 percent said he probably was born in another country and 9 percent said he definitely was born outside the U.S.
Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, questioned the timing of the release of the birth certificate and moved on to his next target: Obama’s college records.
“Obama has never released his college records, including those at Occidental College” in Los Angeles, he wrote in a blog post. “Many believe Obama went to college there on a scholarship reserved for foreign students.”
White House Counsel Robert Bauer said the administration decided last week to research seeking a waiver of Hawaii’s state’s prohibition on releasing the long-form birth certificate, which includes the name of the hospital and the signature of the attending physician.
In the correspondence with the White House, Loretta Fuddy, Hawaii’s director of health, said she was making an exception to department policy by providing copies of the original certificate of live birth.
She wrote that the “numerous inquiries” about Obama’s birth certificate “have been disruptive to staff operations and strained state resources.”
Obama was born Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu at Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital, according to the document. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was born in Kansas and his father, Barack Hussein Obama, was Kenyan.
The president has sometimes joked about the controversy during appearances at fundraisers, such as one last night in New York at the apartment of former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine.
“Nobody checked my I.D. at the door,” Obama said, drawing laughter.