?President-elect Barack Obama’s victory on November 4 launched a crowd-sourced, talk radio-driven effort on the far right: a campaign to deny him the White House by legal means. Prodded by conservative outlets like Plains Radio, WorldNetDaily, and the nationally syndicated Michael Savage, fringe activists began asking Electoral College voters, Supreme Court justices, and members of Congress to disqualify the president-elect based on conspiracy theories about his place of birth and his father’s Kenyan citizenship.
Image has not been found. URL: http://www.washingtonindependent.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/politics.jpgIllustration by: Matt Mahurin
The efforts have failed so far, but activists contacting Republican members of Congress are holding out hope that at least one member of the House or Senate will challenge the certification of President-elect Obama’s 365-173 Electoral College win on Thursday. Any member can protest, but it takes a senator’s protest to delay the ceremony for debate. The activists’ hope relies on friendly letters from Republican members who appeared to have researched their claims and given them consideration. That, according to Republican staffers, is a mistaken reading of the letters. But as they’re written, the letters give Obama opponents some credit for their interest, and promises — however earnestly — that they won’t forget about the issue.
“Thank you for contacting me with concerns about President-elect Barack Obama’s citizenship status,” wrote the office of David Vitter (R-Louisiana) to one request. “I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.”
The Vitter letter reads in large part like a brush-off, explaining that “Hawaii state officials have verified that President-elect Obama was born in Honolulu on August 4, 1961, making him a natural born citizen.” It ends with Vitter pledging to “continue to monitor this situation and any cases on this matter in our courts.”
That’s a bit more ground than other members of the Senate gave to the conspiracy theorists. A review of a dozen such responses which have been posted on anti-Obama websites and whose validity has been confirmed by Capitol Hill staffers, show that most members opted for sensitive ways to say “thanks, but you’re wrong.”
Democratic responses were more direct in dismissing the Obama conspiracy theories.
“Some reports have surfaced that my former colleague, President-Elect Barack Obama, is not a natural-born American citizen,” wrote staffers for Harry Reid to an identical request. “These reports are false.” Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) office responded with one terse paragraph, pointing out that “President-Elect Obama has provided several news organizations with a copy of his birth certificate.”
By contrast, the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) allowed that “stories have circulated that call into question President-elect Obama’s citizenship” and that lawsuits, of which he’d checked the status, were pending. “Senate ethics rules preclude me from becoming personally involved in pending litigation. I sincerely hope this matter can be fully and promptly resolved by the courts.”
Staffers for Sessions did not comment on that letter, but a staffer of another Republican senator who sent an angry constituent a similar, detailed letter about Obama’s citizenship explained that such a letter was standard: There were no plans by any senators to actually follow up on the theories. “He’s not going to challenge the electoral count,” said the staffer. “There’s no way.”
Two members of the House of Representatives have received more Obama citizenship protest than any of their peers. The first was Rep. John Linder (R-Georgia), a three-term member of Congress who’s best known as the chief proponent of the Fair Tax, a proposal to replace income and payroll taxes with a national sales tax. In mid-December, one activist called Rep. Linder’s office to confirm a rumor that the congressman would protest Obama’s election on the House floor. “I received a phone call from Congressman Linder’s office confirming that he intends to do exactly that,” wrote the activist under her pen name, Autumnraine, on the conservative message board Free Republic. “He is just as intent as us on verifying Obama’s eligibility.”
“We had received an inquiry from a constituent about the process,” explained Derick Corbett, Linder’s press secretary. “We explained the process. Somehow that morphed into this story about the congressman ‘standing up to challenge Obama’s election.’ That’s just a complete rumor.”
The second besieged member of Congress was Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), whose surprisingly successful presidential campaign — he got 1.2 million votes — built an online following that, to his staff’s irritation, includes some Obama conspiracy theorists with lots of time to call in and send e-mails.
“We’re very nicely saying that we looked into it and the evidence isn’t there,” explained one member of Paul’s staff. “We’re pointing out that to believe that Obama isn’t a citizen, you have to believe his parents placed a false ad in a Hawaiian paper in 1961 and believe that the state of Hawaii is lying when it says it has the relevant documents.”
One of the people most disappointed in Paul was a supporter of the congressman’s presidential bid who, in November, won a seat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He’s Rep. Mike Ritze, a conservative Republican who donated to the far-right John Birch Society to help launch its magazine The New American, and who has displayed a yard sign reading “US out of UN! UN out of US!” for 30 years, “ever since I saw that the UN was telling the enemy about our movements in Vietnam.”
Ritze called himself a “sideline observer” of the Obama citizenship saga whose interest was piqued by what he heard on the radio and online. In December, Ritze drafted a bill that, if passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Brad Henry (D), would require all presidential candidates to provide proof of birth if they wanted to be on the ballot in Oklahoma. “After that I was deluged by calls and e-mails from all over the country,” said Rep. Ritze.
Some of the people who contacted Ritze encouraged him to lobby his senators about a challenge to President-elect Obama’s official victory certification. He reached out to the offices of Sen. Tom Coburn (R) and Sen. James Inhofe (R). At first, said Ritze, staff at Ihofe’s office said they were “looking at a challenge,” but as time went on both offices turned him down.
A spokesman for Inhofe denied that the senator would challenge tomorrow’s certification, but the senator’s constituent letter on the subject might explain some confusion. “I can certainly appreciate the need for the appropriate review to ensure all candidates for the Presidency meet the basic requirements in the Constitution,” the senator’s office had written. “Again, thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention.”
Ritze has been “disappointed” by the disinterest which which senators and congressman have handled his requests. “I’ll use a medical term,” said Ritze, a medical doctor. “I think it eviscerates the Constitution if Article II, Section I is not followed.”
But if Ritze’s bill passes in Oklahoma, it will go into effect in June 2009, and the state will require proof of citizenship from any and all candidates for president in 2012. That, presumably, will include incumbent President Barack Obama.
“We think differently in Oklahoma,” said Rep. Ritze. “We don’t use nonsense. We use common sense.”
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