(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters )
Reporting from Washington — Declaring that he and the country have "better stuff to do" than fight about where he was born, President Obama on Wednesday morning released his long-form Hawaii birth certificate and asked that the "sideshows and carnival barkers" stop raising the issue.
Even as he stood before reporters to make the surprise announcement, Obama said he believed there would be a "segment of people" for whom the full document is not enough to settle the issue.
But he said he was speaking to the "vast majority of Americans" and to the media in asking that they turn their focus to other issues, particularly the contentious budget talks in the weeks to come.
Obama said he finally decided to distribute the document after all this time because, during intense budget talks a few weeks ago, the "dominant news story" was his birth certificate.
"We've got enormous challenges ahead of us," he said. "We have to make a series of very difficult decisions about how we invest in our future but also get ahold of the deficit and debt," 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."
Speaking from the White House press briefing room, the president chided the media in particular for their attention in recent weeks to conspiracies about his birthplace.
"I would not have the networks breaking in if I was talking about [national security]," he said as he took to the lectern.
Donald Trump's focus on the issue in particular has driven the media cycle for weeks, as he shot to the top of national polls among Republican presidential candidates. Trump spoke from New Hampshire just before the president delivered his remarks, taking credit for the White House's decision to release this additional information.
Obama did not mention Trump by name. But White House officials acknowledged the role the so-called birther debate was having in presidential politics.
"It would have been in his — probably in his long-term political interest to allow this 'birther' debate to dominate discussion in the Republican Party for months to come. But he thought even though it might have been good politics, he thought it was bad for the country, and so he asked counsel to look into this," White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told reporters earlier Wednesday.
The president said he hoped the issue would have been settled in 2008, when his campaign released a shorter Certification of Live Birth. Since then he has watched "with bemusement" as the controversy lingered.
"I have been puzzled at the degree to which this thing just kept on going," he said. "We do not have time for this kind of silliness."