Paul Ryan has figured out a way of letting the birthers down gently.
Like many of his fellow congressmen, Ryan has been bombarded for years with letters from conspiracy theorists who believe President Obama was somehow secretly born in Kenya and so is ineligible to be president. The missives began even before Ryan became one of the president’s biggest foes on budget issues and more recently as he joined the GOP ticket alongside Mitt Romney.
But unlike some in his party who have been embarrassed by their own clunky and awkward responses to the birthers, Ryan has come up with an easy solution to deal with them.
He simply sends them a copy of the president’s birth certificate.
In response to questions from TPM this week, Ryan’s office provided copies of the form letters his staff has used over the years to respond to questions about the president’s citizenship. Polite and measured if not a little dry, the letters break the bad news to the birthers in the kindest possible terms.
“Since President Obama was elected, many individuals have expressed concerns regarding his citizenship and eligibility to serve as the President of the United States given the requirements delineated in the Constitution,” one of the letters says. “On April 27, 2011, in response to these criticisms, President Obama released the long form of his birth certificate, which was issued by the Hawaii State Department of Health.”
The office attaches a copy of the birth certificate to its response. The certificate shows Obama was born Aug. 4, 1961 at a hospital in Honolulu.
“I certainly understand the importance of this issue,” the letter says, “and I hope you find the information useful.”
Ryan’s answer sets him apart from prominent supporters of the Romney campaign like Donald Trump, who routinely says the birth certificate is a forgery, and birther-curious lawmakers like Rep. Steve King and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who have raised questions about the president’s birthplace but stopped short of saying they believed he was born elsewhere.
It also sets him apart from a large number of grassroots Republicans. Even as of early 2011, a poll showed nearly half of GOP voters did not believe Obama was born in the U.S. (Meanwhile Romney’s campaign says the Massachusetts Republican doesn’t doubt Obama’s place of birth, despite a birth certificate joke he made earlier this year.)
TPM reviewed years of television appearances and news articles about Ryan and found no evidence he has ever flirted with birtherism. In fact, the review found nothing to show he had addressed the issue in public whatsoever. However, his congressional spokeswoman, Smythe Anderson, said Ryan has been asked about the issue at town halls over the years. She said he always responds the same way.
“Paul has never questioned it,” Anderson said.
TPM began asking questions about Ryan’s handling of the birth certificate issue after a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Election Commission last month turned up a document, dated Dec. 2, 2008, that showed a Ryan staffer had inquired about “Obama citizenship.”
The question came roughly a month after Obama was elected to the presidency and about a week before the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit claiming he didn’t meet the Constitutional requirements for the presidency.
While the FEC doesn’t have any authority over state ballot access, it has faced questions about Obama’s eligibility since he began running. The document obtained by TPM is a form called a “Legislative Contact Report.” Filled in by hand by someone in the FEC’s Office of Congressional, Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, it documents a phone call from a Ryan staffer named “Ted.” It shows the FEC office directed him instead to state elections officials for questions about state law. Wisconsin elections officials told TPM they had no record of contact from Ryan or his staff in 2008, 2009 or 2010.
Congressional payroll records on the website Legistorm show a man who worked for Ryan at the time, Edward Dean McCann, goes by the name Ted. McCann has since moved to the House Budget Office, where he still works closely with Ryan. Asked about the document by TPM, McCann said he couldn’t remember making such a call. He referred all other questions to Ryan’s congressional office.
Anderson, however, confirmed that McCann, who was a junior staffer in the office in 2008, was assigned to research the best way to respond to the birthers.
“We make it a priority to respond to all our constituents, so we had a staffer — a junior level staffer — doing some independent research to ensure that we were able to properly communicate to our constituents that he was in fact a citizen of the United States,” Anderson said. “We respond to our constituents the best we can. If we hear something from constituents, we’re going to address the question, even if it’s outdated, it will be addressed.”
The result of McCann’s work, Anderson said, was the creation of a letter that Ryan’s staff could send as a response. Obama hadn’t yet released his long form birth certificate at the time, so the office initially began sending the letters along with a news release from Hawaii’s health director.
“The Director of Health for the State of Hawaii, Chiyome Fukino, which has the statutory authority to review and maintain birth records for the State of Hawaii, has personally reviewed President-Elect Obama’s birth certificate and verified that it is not a forgery,” the letter said. “I have attached a statement from Director Fukino regarding this issue for your information.”
The office changed the letter last year and included a copy of the birth certificate after the White House posted it online.
So why would Ryan’s staff spend so much time and energy refuting a conspiracy theory that just never seems to die? Anderson pointed to the people who sent Ryan to Congress.
“That’s something that you would need to actually take up with our constituents,” she said. “We honestly respond to questions about literally anything.”