The Morning Jolt


The ‘Natural-Born Citizen’ Debate Needs to End

Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris smiles at a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., August 12, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

On the menu today: why John Eastman’s ideas about Kamala Harris and who else does and does not qualify as a U.S. citizen don’t hold water; a warning about a deep depression among America’s young people; and oh yeah, go figure — a sign of peace in the Middle East!

Here Comes the ‘Natural-Born Citizen’ Debate Again

Is there anyone reading this newsletter who would disagree that Kamala Harris’s record offers a lengthy list of vulnerabilities, mistakes, bad decisions, and conflicts of interest that are legitimate areas of criticism within the context of the 2020 presidential campaign?

But President Trump and his campaign have chosen a different avenue of criticism against Harris.

Yesterday at the White House:

Q: There are claims circulating on social media that Kamala Harris is not eligible to be — to run for Vice President because she was an “anchor baby,” I quote.  Do you or can you definitively say whether or not Kamala Harris is eligible — legal — and meets the legal requirements to run as Vice President?

THE PRESIDENT: So, I just heard that.  I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements.  And, by the way, the lawyer that wrote that piece is a very highly qualified, very talented lawyer.  I have no idea if that’s right.  I would’ve — I would have assumed the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for Vice President.

Q: (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT: But that’s a very serious — you’re saying that — they’re saying that she doesn’t qualify because she wasn’t born in this country?

Q: She was.

Q: No, she was born in this country, but her parents did not — the claims say that her parents did not receive their permanent residence at that time.

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, I don’t know about it.  I just heard about it.  I’ll take a look.

That is not quite a full-throated endorsement or embrace of a “birther” theory, but Trump certainly didn’t pour cold water on the argument or shut it down. If Trump believes Harris is eligible to be vice president and president because she was born in California, he could have said so. He did not, and he chose not to say so. For a guy who did spent a lot of time arguing that Barack Obama was not eligible to be president — on MSNBC’s Morning Joe during the Obama years! — Trump seems oddly reticent to explain what criteria defines a “natural-born citizen” in his mind.

The lawyer Trump is referring to is John C. Eastman, Chapman University law professor and senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. He wrote in Newsweek, “Her father was (and is) a Jamaican national, her mother was from India, and neither was a naturalized U.S. citizen at the time of Harris’ birth in 1964. That, according to these commentators, makes her not a ‘natural born citizen’—and therefore ineligible for the office of the president and, hence, ineligible for the office of the vice president.”

Deep into his op-ed, Eastman argues that Harris is ineligible to serve as a U.S. senator as well:

Interestingly, this recitation of the original meaning of the 14th Amendment Citizenship Clause might also call into question Harris’ eligibility for her current position as a United States senator. Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution specifies that to be eligible for the office of senator, one must have been “nine Years a Citizen of the United States.” If Harris was not a citizen at birth, we would need to know when (if ever) she became a citizen.

If neither was ever naturalized, or at least not naturalized before Harris’ 16th birthday (which would have allowed her to obtain citizenship derived from their naturalization under the immigration law, at the time), then she would have had to become naturalized herself in order to be a citizen. That does not appear to have ever happened, yet without it, she could not have been “nine Years a Citizen of the United States” before her election to the U.S. Senate.

Let’s be clear: Eastman is arguing that despite being born in the United States to two legal immigrant parents, Kamala Harris is not a U.S. citizen. Just what country would Kamala Harris be a citizen of, by Eastman’s criteria? India? Jamaica? The only place in which she’s lived abroad for any period of time was Montreal, Canada, in her high school years.

Once you argue that birthright citizenship doesn’t exist and has not existed — as opposed to arguing that it should not exist for future births — you end up contending that people who were born in the United States and lived here their entire lives are not American citizens.

You end up arguing people’s legal citizenship is determined by the citizenship of their parents, regardless of whether the person has ever been to the country or countries of their parents’ citizenship. (Under this criteria, Donald Trump himself just squeaks in, as his mother became a U.S. citizen four years before his birth. As Ted Cruz observed, if the contention is that to be a natural-born citizen you need two parents born on U.S. soil, Donald Trump doesn’t qualify.)

The fact that no one has ever argued, and no court has ever held, that Harris is not eligible to be a senator or that she is not a U.S. citizen demonstrates that Eastman is off in some sort of legal fantasyland. “The law could be interpreted to mean this, not that, like everyone seems to think!” Yes, but it hasn’t been interpreted that way, and isn’t going to be interpreted that way.

And it’s particularly contradictory for those on the right to make this argument, as our Dan McLaughlin notes, among others, birthright citizenship is completely in line with an originalist interpretation of the Constitution. Back in 2018 he wrote:

. . . birthright citizenship exists for reasons intrinsic to our American creed that ours is a society you join, not one reserved to those with an ancestral connection to the blood and soil. Any effort to uproot birthright citizenship, even for the children of illegal aliens, would bring us closer to the European problem of a two-tiered caste of citizens and permanently alienated aliens.

Arguing that Kamala Harris is not an American citizen despite being born here and living here for almost all of her life is nonsense on stilts.

A Seriously Ominous New Survey from the CDC

The fact that we’re going to do one more dance with birtherism, and the notion that Kamala Harris is ineligible and/or not a citizen, points to the fundamental unseriousness of our chattering class at this most serious of times.

We’ve got real problems in this country at this moment, folks. A new CDC study of 5,412 survey respondents in late June found one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 say they’ve considered suicide in the past month because of the pandemic:

While 10.7 percent of respondents overall reported considering suicide in the previous 30 days, 25.5 percent of those between 18 to 24 reported doing so. Almost 31 percent of self-reported unpaid caregivers and 22 percent of essential workers also said they harbored such thoughts. Hispanic and Black respondents similarly were well above the average.

Roughly 30.9 percent of respondents said they had symptoms of anxiety or depression. Roughly 26.3 respondents reported trauma and stress-related disorder because of the pandemic.

Another 13.3 percent of respondents said they have turned to substance use, including alcohol and prescription or illicit drugs, to cope with stress from the pandemic.

Reach out to people these days. They need to hear from you. And if, God forbid, you need it, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Tom Friedman Praises Jared Kushner. Look for Flying Pigs Today!

You know the Trump administration really pulled a rabbit out of a hat when Thomas Friedman is left writing a column profusely praising the Israeli–United Arab Emirates peace deal, declaring, “it was Trump’s peace plan drawn up by Jared Kushner, and their willingness to stick with it, that actually created the raw material for this breakthrough.”

As for my argument yesterday that Trump doesn’t have the traditional powers of a president any more — because so many people from Capitol Hill to corporate America to other powerful U.S. institutions simply tune him out, and his political capital has dwindled to near-zero — all the examples I laid out yesterday still stand. It is great that Kushner, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and the U.S. State Department, under the direction of the president, were able to bring this UAE–Israeli agreement to fruition. But how likely is it that Israel and the UAE reached this deal, and wanted to lock it in, because they fear that starting in January, a President Biden could revert U.S. policy to the Obama-era status quo? Every foreign government that has enjoyed pretty good relations with the Trump administration now sees a ticking clock.

ADDENDUM: One more example of how our nation — either driven by the president, the media, the audience, or some combination of all three — focuses on the silly stuff instead of the substance: “The fact that Kamala Harris’ brother-in-law is chief legal officer for Uber at a time when the company has vowed to cut off all operations in California rather than pay its drivers as employees ought to be a bigger problem for the Democratic ticket.”


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