Despite What You've Heard, Oklahoma Rep is Not a Birther
In a story this morning, ThinkProgress claimed that Rep. Mullin of Oklahoma "came out" as a birther at a town hall event in his district. Mullin's office denies the charge — and we're inclined to believe them.
In a story this morning, ThinkProgress posted a video in which freshman Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma appears to agree with an audience member that President Obama was not born in the United States. Mullin's office denies the charge that he "came out" as a birther— and we're inclined to believe them.
Among the people who attended a town hall the congressman held yesterday afternoon, was a woman who introduced herself as both a constituent and as the "Birther Princess." The woman (who says her name is Miki Booth) proceeds to harangue Mullin on the issue of Obama's birthplace, waving a sheaf of papers around that he refuses to take.
Eventually, Mullin takes advantage of a lull to get a word in. ThinkProgress transcribes:
I believe what you’re saying and I don’t support this president whatsoever. But ma’am, we lost November 6th. We had the opportunity to get another president in there. [...] We had four years to take care of that. Our country’s facing some serious issues. If the rest of the American people thought that was a big enough issue which, I thought it probably would’ve been. Who would’ve thought we would ever actually be questioning if we had a natural-born president being president? Who would’ve ever thought that we’d actually be there? [...] So when I say we lost the argument, we lost that argument. Now let’s move on to some other issues. I believe it’s still there, but my God if we didn’t prove it the first four years, what do you think the chances are now?
That "I believe what you’re saying" is really the crux of the argument. It's what BuzzFeed, in its version of the article, highlights as noteworthy as well.
But Ashley Kehl, communications director for Mullin, says that it's simply not the case. "It is completely inaccurate," Kehl told The Atlantic Wire by phone. "Congressman Mullin is not a birther. He's never been a birther."
Kehl suggested that ThinkProgress, a progressive news site, "doesn't agree with anything my boss does," and "spliced" the video to make him look like a birther. Comparing the videos from ThinkProgress and BuzzFeed, below, it's clear that the splicing — which primarily cut out sections during which Mullin and the "princess" were arguing — had no material effect on what Mullin was saying. (Asked later if she knew of elements of the video that weren't included by ThinkProgress, Kehl said she didn't.)
That aside, it still seems worth giving Mullin the benefit of the doubt. Faced with an aggressive questioner, his responses are hardly clear cut. His main point is that the debate is useless, that Obama was reelected. He compares the woman's critiques with people who yell Bible passages at passing cars: no doubt sincere, but also completely useless. The "I believe what you're saying" sounds far more like a segue than an assertion — and if he wanted to agree with her, he could have done so clearly and without hesitation.
The lesson of the video isn't that Mullin is a birther. It's that members of Congress are accountable to all of their constituents, birther royalty or no, and that it's not always a fun responsibility.