As the billionaire reality star speaks to reporters in New Hampshire, the president breaks in to prove he was born in Hawaii
Donald Trump, the self-styled Grand Inquisitor of Barack Obama's birthplace, stood on a runway in New Hampshire Wednesday morning and blustered at reporters about everything from Obama's handling of Libya, OPEC, and gas prices to America's failure to give China an ultimatum on currency manipulation.
And he took credit for something that had happened roughly 40 minutes earlier: The White House release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate, posted as a PDF to the White House blog.
Trump said it was amazing that Obama's birth certificate had "materialize[d]" after the billionaire real-estate mogul and reality-TV star embarked on a media tour to promote himself as a possible 2012 White House candidate and made Obama's birthplace the central focus of his media campaign.
But as Trump was in mid-harumph, the networks cut him off and switched to a feed from White House briefing room.
The president had something to say.
Not about the major shakeup underway at the top of America's national-security command -- the pending retirement of the Secretary of Defense, his replacement with CIA Director Leon Panetta, and Gen. David Petraeus's move from top commander in Afghanistan to replace Panetta as head of America's top intelligence agency. No, not about that. About Trump's fixation. About where Obama was born.
And about the "carnival barkers" attempting to "make stuff up" to distract America from serious discussions about important policy. It was a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to the billionaire TV star speaking at the New Hampshire airport.
"Let me just comment, first of all, on the fact that I can't get the networks to break in on all kinds of other discussions," Obama said, smiling.
"As many of you have been briefed, we provided additional information today about the site of my birth. Now, this issue has been going on for two, two and a half years now. I think it started during the campaign. And I have to say that over the last two and a half years I have watched with bemusement, I've been puzzled at the degree to which this thing just kept on going. We've had every official in Hawaii, Democrat and Republican, every news outlet that has investigated this, confirm that, yes, in fact, I was born in Hawaii, August 4, 1961, in Kapiolani Hospital," Obama said. "We've posted the certification that is given by the state of Hawaii on the Internet for everybody to see. People have provided affidavits that they, in fact, have seen this birth certificate. And yet this thing just keeps on going."
Indeed, birtherism has kept going. Obama's long-form birth certificate has been at the center of conspiracy theories for roughly two years. Obama's campaign first released a shorter "certification of live birth" in 2008. And it set up a website, Fight the Smears, to combat rumors that Obama was born outside the U.S.
But suspicions have not only persisted, they have seemed to grow substantially in recent weeks. In a CBS/New York Times poll taken April 15-20, 25 percent of respondents said they didn't think Obama was born in the U.S., while 18 percent didn't know.
Republican politicians like Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) have asked why the president didn't simply release his long-form birth certificate and put all this business to rest. More conspiratorial minds suspected there had to be a nefarious reason why the president hadn't released it, even as Hawaii government officials have certified that the long-form certificate does exist, and that the president was born in Hawaii on Aug. 4, 1961. As Joshua Green reported, the long-form birth certificate was kept by Hawaii officials. That's the way it works in Hawaii. Obama's mother was issued the "certification of live birth." Some of the most ardent birthers focus on how easy it would be to fabricate the short-form document, given that it contained no signatures or raised seal.
Obama said he wouldn't have called the highly unusual press conference, if not for one thing. He was having trouble getting his message across, he said, as birtherism had come to dominate news discussion over the past few weeks, clouding serious discussions about America's long-term financial stability.
"Now, normally I would not comment on something like this, because obviously there's a lot of stuff swirling in the press on at any given day and I've got other things to do. But two weeks ago, when the Republican House had put forward a budget that will have huge consequences potentially to the country, and when I gave a speech about my budget and how I felt that we needed to invest in education and infrastructure and making sure that we had a strong safety net for our seniors even as we were closing the deficit, during that entire week the dominant news story wasn't about these huge, monumental choices that we're going to have to make as a nation. It was about my birth certificate. And that was true on most of the news outlets that were represented here," Obama said.
"And so I just want to make a larger point here. We've got some enormous challenges out there. There are a lot of folks out there who are still looking for work. Everybody is still suffering under high gas prices. We're going to have to make a series of very difficult decisions about how we invest in our future but also get a hold of our deficit and our debt -- how do we do that in a balanced way," he continued.
"And this is going to generate huge and serious debates, important debates. And there are going to be some fierce disagreements -- and that's good. That's how democracy is supposed to work. And I am confident that the American people and America's political leaders can come together in a bipartisan way and solve these problems. We always have," he said.
"But we're not going to be able to do it if we are distracted. We're not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other. We're not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts. We're not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers," he added, in an apparent dig at Trump.
"We live in a serious time right now and we have the potential to deal with the issues that we confront in a way that will make our kids and our grandkids and our great grandkids proud. And I have every confidence that America in the 21st century is going to be able to come out on top just like we always have. But we're going to have to get serious to do it," Obama said.
One important thing about birtherism is that it seems unconnected to fact. And the president acknowledged that, for some people, nothing he can say, no evidence he can provide, will satisfy their suspicions.
"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. But I'm speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We've got better stuff to do. I've got better stuff to do. We've got big problems to solve. And I'm confident we can solve them, but we're going to have to focus on them -- not on this," Obama concluded, thanking the reporters in attendance, and exiting the room.
It was sort of unprecedented, what the president had done, completely ignoring the major substantive news of the day at a nationally televised press conference -- while saying, at the same time, that he had chosen to focus on the birth certificate sideshow because it had been getting in the way of more serious debates.
The main thrust of Trump's candidacy may or may not have fizzled. He's still making conspiratorial points. In comments to reporters, Trump also questioned Obama's academic record.
"The word is, according to what I've read, that he was a terrible student when he went to Occidental. He then gets to Columbia, he then gets to Harvard ... How do you get into Harvard if you're not a good student?" Trump asked. "Maybe that's right, or maybe that's wrong, but why doesn't he release his Occidental records?"
Maybe that's Trump's next obsession -- a new area to light into to raise suspicions about Obama's past.
But for now, the White House has done its part to step all over Trump in his first major, televised foray into a presidential primary state. The White House had to petition the state of Hawaii for an exception in order to obtain the birth certificate, and Obama said he asked them for it five days ago.
But, for the president, the timing of the release couldn't have been better.
Image credit: The White House
The long-form certificate released by the White House this morning: