As she rose in politics, Kamala Harris was often referred to as the “female Obama.” Now, President Trump’s allies are trying to smear her with an attack like the one they deployed against the former president.
Birtherism is back — and it’s as racist as ever.
Almost immediately after Joe Biden announced that Harris would be his running mate, Newsweek ran an op-ed from right-wing law professor John Eastman, who questioned whether she was constitutionally eligible to be president, because her parents weren’t U.S. citizens when she was born in California.
That argument was quickly echoed by Trump’s own campaign. After the head of the right-wing Judicial Watch tweeted the op-ed, it was retweeted by Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis.
Ellis told ABC News: “It’s an open question” whether Harris is eligible for the presidency, “and one I think Harris should answer so the American people know for sure she is eligible.”
There’s some legitimate scholarly debate about this question — the Constitution doesn’t specifically define “natural-born citizen,” and the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t expressly ruled on this question. But the argument that the Oakland, California-born Harris isn’t constitutionally eligible is a tendentious argument accepted by few scholars.
Most accept that the 14th Amendment, which expressly grants citizenship to everyone born in the United States, regardless of their parentage. Fact-checkers were quick to rule this a false claim.
But that hasn’t stopped conservatives from spinning it into a racist attack. A Facebook post that’s already been shared thousands of times called Harris an “anchor baby” and accused her of not being eligible for the presidency. And Richard Viguerie, the head of the influential hard-right ConservativeHQ organization, made a similar argument last year, writing that Harris was “not a ‘natural born’ citizen; rather, she is more like America’s most high-profile and least grateful anchor baby.”
These racist attacks from Trump allies aren’t exactly a shock. Trump first made a political name for himself by becoming the loudest carnival barker questioning President Obama’s citizenship and pushing lies and conspiracy theories that Obama was born in Kenya, not his native Hawaii.
He took a similar tack against Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 GOP primary, questioning whether Cruz, who was born in Canada and is of Cuban and Irish descent, was constitutionally eligible.
And while a minority of legal scholars argue that natural-born citizenship isn’t as broadly defined, it’s telling that Eastman, the man who sparked the debate over Harris’ eligibility, made the exact opposite argument just a few years ago as he wrote in defending Ted Cruz’s eligibility for president:
For most constitutional law scholars who have considered the subject, the issue is relatively straightforward and long settled. The requirement in Article II that one be a “natural-born citizen” in order to be eligible for the presidency simply means that one be a citizen from birth, rather than subsequently becoming a citizen by later naturalization.
It’s also worth noting that while the late Sen. John McCain faced a few similar questions over his eligibility because he was born outside the U.S., he never faced a serious challenge to his legal right to be president when he ran in 2008. Neither did Michael Dukakis, whose parents were immigrants, when he ran in 1988.
Things are only likely to get uglier from here.
Cover: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), running mate of Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden, attends a coronavirus briefing at a makeshift studio at the Hotel DuPont on August 13, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)