A Trump campaign adviser on Thursday promoted a racist conspiracy theory that falsely claims that Harris may not be a U.S. citizen, a move the Biden campaign denounced as “abhorrent.”
Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser to the Trump campaign, retweeted a Newsweek op-ed written by John C. Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University in California and a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank.
The 14th Amendment states that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Legal scholars have widely interpreted that to mean that anyone born on U.S. soil automatically becomes a natural-born citizen.
In his piece, however, Eastman wrote that “our government’s view of the Constitution’s citizenship mandate has morphed over the decades to what is now an absolute ‘birth on the soil no matter the circumstances’ view — but that morphing does not appear to have begun until the late 1960s, after Kamala Harris’ birth in 1964.”
“So before we so cavalierly accept Senator Harris’ eligibility for the office of vice president, we should ask her a few questions about the status of her parents at the time of her birth,” he wrote.
Eastman went on to question whether Harris’s parents were U.S. citizens at the time of her birth or “merely temporary visitors,” adding that it was possible that Harris — who was born in Oakland, Calif. — “was not subject to the complete jurisdiction of the United States at birth, but instead owed her allegiance to a foreign power or powers.”
Eastman in 2010 ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for California attorney general; Harris defeated the eventual GOP nominee in the general election.
The op-ed, published Wednesday, prompted a swift online backlash, and Newsweek responded early Thursday by posting an editor’s note arguing that the essay “has no connection whatsoever to so-called ‘birther-ism.’ "
Asked Thursday about her decision to retweet the piece, Ellis defended Eastman’s views.
“It’s an open question, and one I think Harris should answer so the American people know for sure she is eligible,” Ellis said in an email. “Just like Biden should also answer questions about his mental competency.”
Ellis also rejected the notion that questioning Harris’s citizenship is racist.
“Our Constitution requires certain eligibility criteria uniformly,” she said. “People asked the same question of Ted Cruz (a white male) in 2016. Every candidate should be able to prove his or her qualification for the highest executive offices.”
Cruz, a senator from Texas, was one of Trump’s competitors for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. At the time, Trump and some of his allies questioned whether Cruz would be eligible for the presidency because he was born in Canada to a Cuban father and a mother who was a U.S. citizen.
Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesman, condemned Ellis’s decision to promote the conspiracy theory surrounding Harris’s eligibility in a statement Thursday.
“Donald Trump was the national leader of the grotesque, racist birther movement with respect to President Obama and has sought to fuel racism and tear our nation apart on every single day of his presidency,” Bates said. “So it’s unsurprising, but no less abhorrent, that as Trump makes a fool of himself straining to distract the American people from the horrific toll of his failed coronavirus response that his campaign and their allies would resort to wretched, demonstrably false lies in their pathetic desperation.”