The Washington Post

GOP pivots on ‘birther’ questions, blames Obama for media attention

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attends a Tea Party rally held by Americans for Prosperity at the Wisconsin State Capitol April 16, 2011. (Darren Hauck/GETTY IMAGES)

Republican leaders on Thursday slammed President Obama’s release of his detailed birth certificate as a distraction from the nation’s real concerns and attempted to point the finger at him for bringing heightened media attention to it.

“We’re borrowing four and half billion dollars a day and this president is more worried about birth certificates, Oprah Winfrey and fundraisers at the Waldorf Astoria,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus said on “CNN Newsroom,” referring to Obama’s decision to release his long-form birth certificate before flying to Chicago for an interview with Winfrey and later to New York for a fundraiser. “It’s maddening and I just wish the president would engage in the real issues that are affecting America.”

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is exploring a run for president in 2012, tweeted: “What President Obama should really be releasing is a jobs plan.”

Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, sent out this message to her followers Wednesday: “Media: admit it, Trump forced the issue. Now, don’t let the WH distract you w/the birth crt from what Bernanke says today. Stay focused, eh?”

Palin’s message, referring to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s press conference, was a deviation from the previous questions she has raised about Obama’s birthplace, which she has called “fair game.”

Her recalibration continues a move by GOP leaders to tamp down the disproven conspiracy theory, with a Republican governor recently vetoing a so-called birther law and a GOP strategist calling it “nutty.”

Obama forced the GOP to react by moving Wednesday to put the questions about his birthplace to rest and calling the attention paid to doubts about his citizenship “silliness.” Major television networks broke into their regular coverage to show the president’s live statement on the issue, and the nation’s largest newspapers covered it on their front pages.

Donald Trump, the real estate mogul and reality TV star turned potential Republican presidential candidate, declared himself “proud” to have fueled the controversy with repeated questions. The juxtaposed images of the president with his birth certificate and Trump continuing to question Obama’s citizenship dominated much of the political day.

Republicans on Capitol Hill tried to push it back to the sidelines in a more forceful way. Soon after being elected speaker, John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on “Meet the Press,” “It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people. Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That’s good enough for me. The president says he’s a Christian. I accept him at his word. ... The American people have the right to think what they want to think. I can’t — it’s not my job to tell them.”

On Wednesday, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said, “This has long been a settled issue. The speaker’s focus is on cutting spending, lowering gas prices, and creating American jobs.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in an interview on Fox News reiterated the message.

“We’ve got a lot of things swirling right now. You’ve got gas prices over $4 a gallon. You’ve got over $14 trillion in debt in this country we’re trying to deal with. You’ve got unemployment that’s still stuck up around 9 percent,” Cantor said. “How in the world is this the issue we ought to be focusing on? If the White House press secretary says this is a side show, why aren’t we treating it as such?”

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has been a business reporter, covered presidential campaigns and written about civil rights and race. More recently, she has covered the first lady's office, politics and culture.

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