Republican officials in Washington and Idaho say neither state’s party is deeply concerned about President Barack Obama’s citizenship and both think the nation has far more important issues to address, like jobs, the economy and $4-per-gallon gasoline.
But “birtherism” – a term for the belief that Obama was not born in the United States and is thus ineligible to be president – has been a subject of some debate in the states.
A handful of Washington voters filed suit before the 2008 election to bump Obama’s name from the ballot because they questioned his citizenship; they failed. They came back a few months later with a lawsuit to keep the state’s Electoral College from giving its votes to Obama. Same reason; same result.
In March 2009, Moscow, Idaho, was the scene of an interesting moment in the growth of the birther movement. Orly Taitz – a California dentist, lawyer and real estate agent who might be considered one of the leading voices in the controversy – traveled to the University of Idaho, where U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts was delivering a speech on Abraham Lincoln and the law.
When Roberts finished his prepared remarks and opened the floor to questions, Taitz was first at the microphone. She asked Roberts to comment on a motion she filed in U.S. Supreme Court declaring “Barack Hussein Obama aka Barry Soetero” not a legal citizen.
Roberts replied that obviously this was an issue that she wanted to have pending before the court, so he couldn’t comment on it. If she’d like to leave her documents, he’d look at them, Roberts said. The moderator suggested Taitz hand them to one of the security guards converging on her from several directions.
Taitz later said on her website that she confronted Roberts and he promised to review the case.
In 2009, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers told an interviewer for the Huffington Post that “we’re all going to find out” if Obama, who’d been in office about eight months at that point, was a natural born citizen.
“I’d like to see the documents,” she said in a video of GOP members of Congress who were asked about the birther controversy.
When she arrived back in Washington state for the summer recess, however, McMorris Rodgers said she’d seen a copy of Obama’s birth certificate – the short form, released during the 2008 campaign, not the long form released Wednesday – and she no longer had doubts.
“There’s a reality that it’s been in the courts, the courts have ruled that he is indeed a legal citizen, born in this country, and I think it’s a nonissue,” she said. “It’s settled. We need to move on.”
McMorris Rodgers was traveling Wednesday and not available to comment on Obama’s release of his long-form birth certificate, her staff said.
Kirby Wilbur, Washington state GOP chairman and a former Seattle radio talk show host, said Wednesday he occasionally got calls from people who believed strongly in the birther issue, but never thought much of it himself.
“I’ve never doubted that he was born in the U.S.,” Wilbur said. “I think it’s a distraction and a waste of time.”
People who do believe Obama is a foreigner probably won’t be convinced by this latest document, Wilbur said, and will find some misspelling or some mistake to talk about.
He doubts the results of polls that say 40 percent of Republicans believe Obama wasn’t born in the United States. But he does think some Republicans have questions and they may be one reason Donald Trump is currently leading the list of potential GOP presidential candidates. But not the only reason.
“Donald Trump’s a celebrity. He’s got flash … but I think he’s a flash in the pan,” Wilbur said.
Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko said party officials in that state haven’t even discussed the birther issue at their meetings. “It’s not something I get phone calls or emails about.”
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