Trump gives credence to false, racist Kamala Harris conspiracy
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Thursday gave credence to a false and racist conspiracy theory about Kamala Harris’ eligibility to be vice president, fueling an online misinformation campaign that parallels the one he used to power his rise into politics.
Asked about the matter at the White House, Trump told reporters he had “heard” rumors that Harris, a Black woman and U.S.-born citizen whose parents were immigrants, does not meet the requirement to serve in the White House. The president said he considered the rumors “very serious.”
The conspiracy theory is false. Harris, who was tapped this week by Joe Biden to serve as his running mate on the Democratic ticket, was born in Oakland, California, and is eligible for both the vice presidency and presidency under the constitutional requirements. The question is not even considered complex, according to constitution lawyers.
“Full stop, end of story, period, exclamation point,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School.
Untrue, racist or sexist claims
Trump built his political career on questioning a political opponent’s legitimacy. He was a high-profile force behind the so-called “birther movement” — the lie that questioned whether President Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, was eligible to serve. Only after mounting pressure during his 2016 campaign did Trump disavow the claims.
Trump’s comments landed in a blizzard of other untrue, racist or sexist claims unleashed across social media and conservative websites after Biden picked Harris, the first Black woman and the first Asian American woman on a major party ticket. The misinformation campaign is built on falsehoods that have been circulating less noticeably for months, propelled by Trump supporters, and now the president himself.
“I have no idea if that’s right,” said Trump, who said he had read a column on the subject earlier Thursday. “I would have thought, I would have assumed, that the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president.”
Trump made the comments in answer to a reporter’s question and appeared to be referencing an op-ed written by John Eastman, a conservative attorney who argues that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t grant birthright citizenship. Eastman sowed doubt about Harris’ eligibility based on her parents’ immigration status. Harris’ mother was born in India and her father was born in Jamaica.
25 PHOTOSKamala Harris early in her careerSee GalleryKamala Harris early in her careerSan Francisco district attorney candidate Kamala Harris, left, serves lunch to an unidentied visitor while volunteering at Thanksgiving service at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2003. Glide church has been feeding the needy for years, this Thanksgiving about 1,200 volunteers helped prepare 6,000 meals from 1,000 turkeys and 600 hams. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)San Francisco’s new district attorney, Kamala Harris, right, receives the oath of office from California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George, left, during inauguration ceremonies Thursday, Jan. 8, 2004, in San Francisco. In the center is Harris’ mother, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan, who holds a copy of "The Bill of Rights." Harris, a political novice and career prosecutor, became San Francisco’s chief law enforcer Thursday and California’s first district attorney of Indian and black descent. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris poses for a portrait in San Francisco, Friday, June 18, 2004. The December election of a new district attorney was supposed to signal a turning point for police-prosecutor relations in San Francisco, where lofty, ultra-liberal ideals sometimes clash with the street-level realities of law enforcement. But after ousting her former boss on a pledge to restore order to the DA’s office, Kamala Harris has faced unforeseen trials with her colleagues in blue. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom holds a Thanksgiving meal while volunteering at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco Thursday, Nov. 25, 2004. Glide prepared more than 5,000 meals for Thanksgiving. Also pictured are San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, center, and Newsom’s wife Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom, second from right. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who as a prosecutor once specialized in child sexual assault cases addresses the Domestic Human Trafficking symposium in Los Angeles, Friday, April, 25, 2014. According to a 2005 International Labour Organization paper, human trafficking, or sexual servitude and forced labor, brings in about $32 billion annually, making it the second most profitable criminal enterprise after illegal arms trafficking. The vast majority of those trafficked are women and children, from all milieus of society. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)** CORRECTS SPELLING OF LASHUAN HARRIS ** San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, right, speaks at a news conference about Lashuan Harris in San Francisco, Friday, Oct. 21, 2005. Lashuan Harris, the women seen dropping her young sons into San Francisco Bay, pleaded innocent to three counts of murder. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)Kamala Harris, San Francisco District Attorney (Photo by Steve Jennings/WireImage for Conde Nast media group) *** Local Caption ***Belva Davis, Kamala Harris, San Francisco District Attorney, and Laura Michalchyshyn of the Sundance Channel (Photo by Steve Jennings/WireImage for Conde Nast media group)VENICE, CA – NOVEMBER 03: San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris attends the ‘Choose Or Lose Your Toys’ event at the Obsolete Gallery on November 3, 2009 in Venice, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Obsolete)En esta fotografía de archivo del 17 de junio de 2009, la fiscal de distrito de San Francisco Kamala Harris, a la izquierda, aplaude mientras el nuevo jefe de la policía George Gascon, en el podio, es presentado por el alcalde Gavin Newsom, a la derecha, en San Francisco. Las actitudes tolerantes que tuvieron hacia los indocumentados podrían descarrilar las candidaturas a gobernador de California de dos prominentes figuras de la política en San Francisco: Harris y Newson. (Foto AP/Eric Risberg, Archivo)San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris was one of six candidates taking part in the democratic primary debate for Attorney General at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica, May 18, 2010. The remaining four candidates are Chris Kelly, Ted Lieu, Pedro Nava and Alberto Torrico. (Photo by Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)SALINAS, CA – NOVEMBER 01: San Francisco district attorney and democratic candidate for California attorney general Kamala Harris laughs as she sits backstage before a get-out-the-vote rally at the National Steinbeck Center on November 1, 2010 in Salinas, California. With one day to go until Election Day, Jerry Brown is wrapping up his three day campaign trip throughout California in hopes of defeating his republican challenger and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)In this photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010, California Attorney General Kamala Harris gives her first news conference in Los Angeles. Harris asked a federal appeals court on Tuesday, march 1, 2011, to allow gay marriages to resume while the court considers the constitutionality of the state’s voter approved ban on same sex unions. The request came after the California Supreme Court said it needed the rest of the year to consider a legal question the appeals court said it needs answered before it can resolve the case. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)NEW YORK CITY, NY – OCTOBER 01: Jason Binn and Attorney General of California, Kamala Harris pose at Provocateur circa October 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Binn/WireImage)BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JUNE 05: Attorney General Kamala Harris attends the Fifth Annual Kidstock Music and Arts Festival at Greystone Mansion on June 5, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)BEVERLY HILLS, CA – MARCH 18: California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks onstage at the Public Counsel’s William O. Douglas Award Dinner held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 18, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)California Attorney General Kamala Harris, right, and Michael Troncoso, Senior Counsel to the Attorney General, left, listen as mortgage fraud victim Jacqueline Marcelos speaks at a roundtable of foreclosure victims at Mission Economic Development Agency in San Francisco, on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 13:California Attorney General Kamala Harris participates in TheWrap’s ‘The Power Of Leadership’ brunch at Scarpetta on December 13, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.(Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for TheWrap)Californbia Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC (Photo by Ralf-Finn Hestoft/Corbis via Getty Images)California Attorney GeneralKamala D. Harris at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4, 2012 on the first day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). The DNC is expected to nominate US President Barack Obama to run for a second term as president. AFP PHOTORobyn BECK(Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImages)SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JULY 11:California Attorney General Kamala Harris (L) looks on as California Governor Jerry Brown (R) speaks to reporters after signing the California Homeowner Bill of Rights (AB 278 and SB 900) on July 11, 2012 in San Francisco, California.Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Homeowners Bill of Rights that establishes landmark protection rules for mortgage loan borrowers. The laws go into effect on January 1, 2013.(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris speaks with supporters at the California Democrats State Convention in San Diego, CA on Saturday, February 11, 2012 in San Diego, CA. Harris has helped Californian homeowners by lobbying for a large share of federal funds to help with the massive foreclosure crisis in the state. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Corbis via Getty Images)MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA – DECEMBER 12:California Attorney General Kamala Harris arrives at the Breakthrough Prize Inaugural Ceremony at NASA Ames Research Center on December 12, 2013 in Mountain View, California.(Photo by C Flanigan/FilmMagic)SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JUNE 30:California State Attorney General Kamala Harris appears at the Gay Pride Parade on June 30, 2013 in San Francisco, California.(Photo by Arun Nevader/FilmMagic)LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 17:California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks at a news conference on May 17, 2013 at the Los Angeles Civic Center in Los Angeles, California. Harris hosted a meeting of the state’s district attorneys to develop recommendations on reducing gun violance.(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)Up Next
But constitutional law experts say Harris’ parents are beside the point. The 14th Amendment grants citizenship to all people born in the U.S. and Article II Section 1 of the Constitution says that to be eligible for the vice presidency and presidency a candidate must be natural-born U.S. citizen, at least 35, and a resident of the United States for a minimum of 14 years.
“No, there’s no question about it,” said Christopher Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University in Ohio. “It’s been recognized since the people drafted it back in the 39th Congress that (the 14th) amendment would cover people not just born to American citizens but born on American soil.”
The president’s reelection campaign’s senior lawyer, Jenna Ellis, shared the controversial Eastman column on Thursday morning, hours before Trump was asked about it at a White House news conference. Trump noted that the column was written by a “very highly qualified and very talented lawyer.”
After Trump’s remarks, Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens said the national party has no plans to challenge Harris’ eligibility for the Democratic ticket.
Eastman, the former dean of Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law, where he is a professor, is also a senior fellow at the conservative Claremont Institute. According to his bio on the institute’s website, he also served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
He also ran in the Republican primary to serve as California’s attorney general in 2010. Eastman was defeated by a candidate who went on to lose to Harris.
Newsweek, which published the controversial Eastman op-ed questioning Harris’ birthright qualification, defended the piece, arguing that Eastman “was focusing on a long-standing, somewhat arcane legal debate” about the 14th Amendment and not trying to “ignite a racist conspiracy theory around Kamala Harris’ candidacy.”
Harris has been a top target of misinformation
Online rumor and conjecture that Harris is ineligible to serve first surfaced when she announced her campaign for the White House in 2019. A viral post with the misleading information was revived again, days before she was announced as Biden’s running mate, as pro-Trump Facebook users spread the message in groups and on their pages.
Harris has been a top target of misinformation since launching her own bid for the White House last year. Women’s groups, which have banded together to call out sexism, racism and misinformation about Harris and other female candidates, pointed to other examples of conservative figures focusing on her race and gender in recent days.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson mispronounced Harris’ first name multiple times during a segment Tuesday night, and grew agitated when a guest corrected him, telling Carlson it was a matter of respect. Carlson responded, “So what?” and then mispronounced her name again, twice.
“That is certainly a slight,” said Amanda Harrington, vice president of Time’s Up, which works to stop workplace harassment. It’s a type of disrespect often shown to people of color in the workplace, she said, adding that on the national stage “it asserts a false narrative about who belongs in leadership today.”
Minutes after Biden announced his pick, conservative commentator Candace Owens posted a false attack on her Facebook page, claiming Harris had only started identifying as Black in the run-up to the presidential election. Until then Harris had solely described herself as Indian-American, Owens wrote, inaccurately.
Within 24 hours, nearly 200,000 users had liked the post — raking in more attention than Biden’s own Facebook post announcing his pick.
Harris has been accused of reaching her position in politics due to sexual relationships, a sexist claim pushed on social media and elsewhere — including an article in The American Spectator, a conservative online magazine, that referred to her as “the mattress.” On Wednesday, Eric Trump, the president’s son, liked a tweet that referred to her as “whorendous.”
“These are not the kinds of things Mike Pence experienced, or Tim Kaine for that matter,” Harrington said, referring to the vice president and the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee.
But Trump has questioned other rivals’ eligibility to serve in the White House. In 2016, the Republican nomination fight raised questions about whether rival Sen. Ted Cruz met “natural-born” citizen requirements. Cruz was born in Canada, but his mother was born in the United States.
Similarly, in 2008, questions arose about whether Sen. John McCain qualified as a “natural-born citizen” because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone, where his father was stationed. Questions about McCain’s qualification spurred bipartisan outrage and the Senate passed a nonbinding resolution declaring McCain, who become the GOP presidential nominee, a natural-born citizen. Obama, who beat McCain in the 2008 race for the White House, was even a co-sponsor of the McCain resolution.
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