A reporter asked Trump at a Thursday news conference for his thoughts on a recent claim about Harris, who Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, on Tuesday tapped to be his running mate. Harris, who will be the first black woman and first Asian American on a major party ticket, now faces right-wing attacks on her eligibility to serve as vice president. Those attacks stem from her parents’ citizenship status when she was born in Oakland, California, and are akin to birthplace conspiracy theories Barack Obama confronted.
“I just heard that,” Trump said of the baseless legitimacy issue about Harris, published Wednesday in a Newsweek op-ed by a California-based law professor. “I heard it today, that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” Trump continued, adding, “And by the way, the lawyer that wrote that piece is a very highly qualified, very talented lawyer.”
Trump spent his years questioning Obama’s eligibility for the presidency, repeatedly claiming evidence existed that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., that his Hawaii birth certificate might be fake and that there was no proof to the contrary. Trump’s role in keeping the false “birther” movement alive helped fuel his political rise.
“I have no idea if that’s right,” Trump said of the Harris attacks. “I would have assumed the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president. But that’s very serious. You’re saying that they say that she doesn’t qualify because she wasn’t born in this country.”
The reporter corrected Trump: “No, she was born in this country, but ... opponents say that her parents did not receive their permanent residency at that time.”
The argument promoted in Newsweek and by other right-wing groups is that Harris is not a “natural-born citizen,” as defined in the 14th Amendment, because her parents ― an economist who emigrated from Jamaica and a cancer researcher who emigrated from India ― were not.
But the argument is hollow. The United States grants citizenship to anyone born in the country, regardless of their parents’ status.
“One of the hallmarks of the U.S. Constitution, by virtue of the 14th Amendment, is that it directly grants citizenship to those born in the United States, regardless of the ancestry of their parents,” Richard Pildes, a constitutional law professor at New York University School of Law, told HuffPost earlier on Thursday.
In publishing the piece by Eastman, a Republican, Newsweek did not note that he was a failed primary contender for the Calfornia attorney general’s post that Harris first won in 2010.
CORRECTION: The original version of this story identified the reporter as a Newsweek employee. It is not clear what outlet the reporter works for.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.