WASHINGTON — As President Obama walked to the podium to deliver his Gridiron Club speech last month, he motioned to the band to stop playing “Hail to the Chief” and instead asked, “Can we go with the song that we talked about?”
With that, the musicians struck up “Born in the USA.” Zinged Obama: “Some things just bear repeating” as the crowd laughed.
On Wednesday, in a surprise, Obama changed his tune — and was not joking — as the White House released a certified copy of his “long form” Hawaii birth certificate. Obama took the extraordinary step of coming to the briefing room to make a statement in the wake of a “birther” revival, fueled lately by Donald Trump, who is considering a GOP 2012 presidential bid.
“Now, I know that there’s going to be a segment of people for which no matter what we put up, this issue will not be put to rest, but I’m speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do. We’ve got big problems to solve. And I’m confident we can solve them, but we’re going to have to focus on them, not on this,” Obama said.
Released was a certified copy of Obama’s “long form” “certificate of live birth,” the underlying document signed by his mother and the doctor who delivered him on Aug. 4, 1961. That document — never released until Wednesday — is what the State of Hawaii uses for a “short form” computer-generated “certification of live birth” accepted by the state and federal authorities as the legal proof of birth.
The Obama presidential campaign released that “certification” of live birth in 2008 and it served its purpose back then, tamping down the issue enough so it was no obstacle to Obama’s election.
But the lack of details on the document only whetted the appetite of conspiracy-minded “birthers” — people skeptical about where Obama was born — despite other evidence that it was in a Hawaii hospital. Conspiracy theorists even discounted birth announcements published in August 1961 in Honolulu newspapers, as if Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham Obama, somehow planted the items.
The Obama White House acted as Trump, a real estate mogul with a top-rated NBC show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” was getting extensive coverage in mainstream media making bogus “birther” claims — as he became one of the front-runners in the large 2012 GOP field.
There was more mainstream spillover from people who, like Trump, otherwise had — or did have — credibility: During an Easter Sunday interview, the Rev. Franklin Graham said he had questions about Obama’s birth. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about birth documents during a White House briefing this week.
The White House also saw the issue getting some traction. A recent New York Times/CBS poll showed 25 percent believed Obama was not a “natural born citizen.”
Among Republicans, 45 percent said he was born outside the U.S.
While the birther controversy for now was not a political problem — some Democrats thought it helped Obama — Obama decided to obtain his “long form” certificate because it was becoming a major distraction to pushing his government agenda.
“We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers,” Obama said Wednesday.
Last Friday, Obama signed a short letter to Hawaii Director of Health Loretta Fuddy, asking for two certified copies of “my original certificate of live birth.”
Obama’s private attorney, Judith Corley, that day sent her letter to Fuddy asking, on Obama’s behalf, for the health department to waive its long-standing policy not to release the “long-form” certificate.
On Monday, Fuddy said in a letter to Obama she would “make an exception” to policy in part to stop the “numerous inquiries” that had flooded her department, enough to be “disruptive” to her operation and “strain” state resources.
Trump, testing the waters Wednesday in Portsmouth, N.H., the first-in-the nation primary state, took credit for the release of the document with some chest-thumping comments.
“Today I’m very proud of myself, because I’ve accomplished something that no one else has been able to accomplish,” Trump said. He said he “accomplished something important.” Obama “should have done it a long time ago.”
Trump was not ready yet to make any concessions, saying about the document, “is it real, is it proper?” and “hope it checks out.” He then moved on to demand Obama release records from his college days.