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White House calls continued 'birther' talk a distraction

April 26, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli and James Oliphant, Washington Bureau
(White House video )

Reporting from Washington  — The White House on Tuesday castigated those who continue to express doubt about President Obama's birthplace, a rare public comment on what a spokesman called a "settled issue."

"I just think it's a distraction and it's an unfortunate distraction from the issues that I think most Americans care about," Press Secretary Jay Carney said at his daily briefing. "Anybody who is watching this exchange in the West Wing of the White House would be appalled — most Americans would be appalled that this is what concerns us here when in fact there are so many issues facing this country that need to be addressed by the president and by the Congress. And that's what he's focusing on."

The "birther" issue has regained enough political resonance that CNN has dedicated two nights to debunking the proposition that Obama was not born within the United States, three years after he was elected president.

Anderson Cooper's program sent a correspondent to Hawaii to check out the various conspiracy theories that refuse to abate among some Republicans, including that the state's Certification of Live Birth is invalid proof of his origins, that a Honolulu newspaper's announcement of Obama's birth in 1961 was a fake, and that his original birth certificate, contained in a state vault, signifies that Obama was born Muslim.

Correspondent Gary Tuchman set about exploding the various theories, establishing that an official certificate of live birth, rather than an original birth certificate, is now issued in Hawaii as accepted proof of someone's identity, that the newspaper ad was real, and that there was no space on the original form for religious affiliation.

The CNN reporter also interviewed the former director of the Hawaii health department, who has actually viewed the original certificate with her own eyes.

"It was absolutely authentic. He was absolutely born here in the state of Hawaii," said Chiyome Fukino, a Republican who viewed the certificate at the behest of the office of then-Gov. Linda Lingle.

She called the constant inquiries streaming into the health department a "remarkable diversion of limited resources to an issue that is easily resolved."

But Fukino conceded that her assertion would likely do little to quell the ongoing controversy. "Conspiracy theorists are alive and well. It does not matter what the evidence is."

Carney, in response to a question from CNN's Ed Henry, called the network's report "a highly credible piece on an established fact."

"It is unfortunate that for whatever reason, that instead of focusing on our economy, on our continued joblessness in this country, on the need to reduce our deficits and get our fiscal house in order, on the need for an energy policy and for investments in clean energy technology, on the need for an education reform strategy that positions our children for the 21st century, on the challenges that face us internationally that this is the subject that gets any kind of serious attention," Carney said.

Donald Trump, who says he's exploring a run for the White House, has put doubts about the president's birthplace front and center. He told CNN that it's "hard to believe he just doesn't issue his birth certificate," and that it "would be so easy to do if in fact he has one."

Carney said there was nothing left to release.

"Anybody who was born in Hawaii who asks for their birth certificate gets the same thing that the campaign and the White House has provided to the press," he said.

Earlier Tuesday Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said he's not concerned about polls that show that a sizable percentage of Republicans doubt that Obama was born in the United States.

"Trump can — the candidates can talk about it all they want. But my position is that the president was born in the United States — and I don’t think it is an issue that moves voters," he said.

michael.memoli@latimes.com
james.oliphant@latimes.com

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