UPDATE: The White House has ridiculed a proposed Arizona law that would force President Barack Obama to provide a birth certificate when he runs for president in the state in 2012, calling the legislation a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“I can’t imagine Arizona voters think their tax dollars are well served by a legislature that is less focused on their lives than in fringe right-wing radio conspiracy theories,” White House spokesman Bill Burton told CNN. “This is a question that has been answered exhaustively.”
The “question” at hand is Obama’s citizenship. The proposed Arizona law, which passed the state House this week but still needs Senate and gubernatorial approval, was inspired by the “birther” movement that believes Obama wasn’t born in the United States and is therefore ineligible to be president.
Since Arizona’s Republican-dominated House passed the bill, lawmakers have found themselves at the receiving end of ridicule from numerous political commentators. “Members of the Arizona state House have made a strong bid for this year’s coveted ‘nuttiest legislative body’ award,” writes Robert Schlesinger at US News & World Report.
“The legislation serves less to provide birthers with a way to nail Obama, and serves more to embarrass legislators in Arizona — as the birther bills in other states have embarrassed their sponsors,” writes David Weigel at the Washington Post.
Weigel argues that the legislation is irrelevant because “even if this Arizona bill is signed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.) it will … be answered by a certification of live birth from Barack Obama.”
Weigel also points to a clause in the proposed law that gives the Arizona secretary of state the discretion to decide whether or not a candidate has met the requirements for eligiblity. That power amounts to “a nuclear weapon [in] the hands of a partisan elected official,” but “it’s unlikely that the official could ever use that weapon,” presumably because of the political backlash caused by a politician blocking an opponent from running in an election.
Despite overwhelming evidence that President Obama was born in Hawaii — including affirmation from the state itself — a recent poll finds that only 58 percent of Americans say Obama was born in the US. Twenty-three percent say they don’t know, and 20 percent say he was born in another country.
ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS BELOW
An Arizona lawmaker fears her state is becoming a “laughing stock” after the state House passed a bill that will force President Barack Obama to present his birth certificate before being certified to run for president in the state.
Phoenix Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema said the bill passed Monday is among a handful of legislative items that are making Arizona “the laughing stock of the nation.”
While the bill does not target President Obama by name, requiring all presidential candidates to show proof of US birth, its intention is clear. “The legislation originated from a fringe group that believes President Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States and therefore ineligible to be president,” reports the Arizona Republic.
The law allows the secretary of state to keep a candidate from registering to run if he or she has “reasonable cause” to believe the candidate doesn’t meet the necessary requirements, the Los Angeles Times reports.
“Republicans continue to take Arizona down the wrong track by wasting taxpayers’ time on frivolous legislation instead of working on important issues like health care for kids and seniors and education,” Sinema said, as quoted at the Republic.
The Arizona House of Representatives voted by a margin of 31 to 22 on Monday to add the measure to a larger bill. The bill will have to be voted on again, separately, in the House, and will have to get Senate assent before it can be sent to Gov. Jan Brewer for her signature.
“Attempts have been made in other states, such as Florida and Oklahoma, to introduce similar legislation,” the New York Post reports. “None of them have ever become law.”
The Republic notes that there are concerns about the bill’s constitutionality.
Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett also expressed concern about Burges’ amendment, saying that creating state-level eligibility requirements to run for federal office could violate the U.S. Constitution.
“While everyone has an interest in ensuring that only eligible citizens run for president, there are obvious issues with states implementing what could become a patchwork of different tests for a presidential candidate to prove his/her citizenship,” said Bennett’s spokesman, Matthew Benson, in an e-mail.
On Monday, the Arizona state Senate voted in favor of a controversial immigration bill that would “make it a state crime for illegal immigrants to not have an alien registration document,” the AP reports. “It also would require police to question people about their immigration status if there’s reason to suspect they’re in the country illegally.”
That clause about questioning people without suspicion has raised the ire of civil libertarians, who say it will infringe on basic human rights. On Sunday, the head of the US’s largest Catholic diocese compared the law to “Nazi” and “communist tactics” used to sniff out dissidents.
“I can’t imagine Arizonans now reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation,” Cardinal Roger Mahoney wrote on his blog, describing the bill as “the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law.”