Ms. POTUS 2036 ??

Mon, July 14, 2008


I thought it was pretty clear cut in eighth grade civics class — to be President of the United States, you have to born in one of the 50 states. Period. A “natural born citizen.”

Friends have often commented that PunditGirl, being the opinionated daughter that she is (you’re REALLY surprised, right?!), should run for President when she grows up. During this campaign, she’s embraced that idea.

“Mommy, I make good decisions. Maybe I should be President some day.”

My usual reply is to tell her that she would make a great President. But unless we get an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jennifer Granholm amendment to the Constitution, she’ll never be allowed to run because she was born in China.

Even though she became an American citizen the moment our flight from Beijing landed in the United States on that frigid winter afternoon in January 2001, President of the United States is the one job she can never have since she is not a “natural born citizen.” Maybe Her Bad Mother can put in a good word and PunditGirl could be Prime Minister of Canada, instead!

Our British friends have a daughter who was born in the United States — SHE could be President someday even though she will most likely live most of her life in London. But unless there are some significant Constitutional changes in the coming decades, PunditGirl will never be able to put her art on the big desk in the Oval Office or invite me to have tea in the Rose Garden.

At the moment, I don’t have the heart to tell her any of that. I figure she’ll learn soon enough and by then she’ll be over her desire to let me live with her in the White House. But I DO have the heart to tell John McCain that he shouldn’t be eligible to be elected POTUS for the exact same reason — he isn’t a natural born U.S. citizen.

There have been a few passing reports about the fact that McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone to U.S. citizen parents. McCain and others claim that’s good enough. To aid his cause, Congress passed a resolution saying just that, allowing McCain to pass ‘Go’ and collect his presidential campaign contributions.

While it’s been a few years since I practiced law, I’m pretty sure that a Congressional resolution doesn’t trump the Constitution which plainly says:

No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President …

“Natural born” means a citizen at birth. And the authors of a recent article seem convinced that John McCain is not covered. The Panama Canal Zone was an unincorporated territory at the time of his birth. Even though Congress passed a law not long after little John was born to bestow citizenship on those born in the Canal Zone, it doesn’t make him natural born.

Of course, some legal minds — Theodore Olson and Laurence Tribe (a Barack Obama supporter) — claim there is nothing for McCain to worry about.

In reality, I don’t have a really strong opinion about whether someone born to American parents on a military base at the Panama Canal should be prevented from running for President of the United States (though it would be a handy loophole this year to cause more havoc for the Republicans!).

But if that loophole is good enough for McCain, then it’s time to re-examine whether, in a country of immigrants, we should hang on to this requirement. Of course it was important to the Founding Fathers — they didn’t want any of the King’s subjects sneaking in and taking over their new country. But things have changed and it’s time to challenge whether it’s really important for an American citizen to have been born on American soil as a qualification to be President.

You know if the facts were the same, but the name was changed to the Democratic candidate, the Supreme Court would come back into a summer session faster than they could say, “President John McCain” to ensure that such a candidate didn’t make it on the ballot in November.

So while I wouldn’t mind if a technicality worked to the Democrats’ benefit in 2008, what I’d really like to see is a bipartisan effort to amend the Constitution so that if she wanted to, PunditGirl really could run for President some day. After all, I’ve already got some decorating plans in mind for the Lincoln Bedroom!

You can also find PunditMom getting all political and wonky at BlogHer, where she is a Contributing Editor for Politics & News, as well as MOMocrats and D.C. Metro Moms.

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6 Responses to “Ms. POTUS 2036 ??”

  1. Backpacking Dad Says:

    I’ve always kind of wondered about this.

    I would probably never run for president, but I’d like to have the opportunity. But as an “American Born Abroad” I don’t think I count as “natural born”.

    Although I’m not sure what precisely is unnatural about being born in Canada.

  2. Sornie Says:

    I like your take on this issue. Maybe it is time, in a country so wary of terror from foreigners, that we are at least given the option to elect a naturalized citizen which would be very good in the case of your daughter. Hell, maybe you should run. It’s not too late!

  3. geekmommy Says:

    I’ve believed for years that there needs to be an amendment to this part of the constitution… Yes, I understand the reasoning behind its inclusion – but the time has long passed since it made sense.

    Unfortunately, there is always a candidate ‘looming’ that the “other side” believes would best be kept out by this clause – be it Schwarzenegger, Goldwater, or any such ‘powerful politico’ who is of ‘foreign’ birth.

    “Natural Born Citizen” is kind of a legally hazy term – but it is foolish to deny this right to anyone who is an American. Because, after all, we are supposed to be a country that embraces its legal immigrants.

    Here’s hoping someone comes to their senses and pushes this amendment soon!

  4. pajamadeen Says:

    it’s unnatural to be born in Canada because it’s an incredible stroke of good luck!

    now Panama, that’s another story. wish we could get rid of McSame on the basis of not being born here. i hadn’t really thought about it ’til Pundit Mom brought it all up, but she does have a good point.

  5. Tash Says:

    I love your blog and I lovepolitics!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t blog about it much because of its inflammatory nature and I have enough inflammation in my life.
    although I don’t agree with all your politics I like your intellectual honesty something that is rare!!
    This is probably the only issue I agree with Obama on ha ha
    Your daughter is beautiful! I have been blessed with natural born citizens and have tried to convince my husband to adopt a girl from China to give her a better life..we’ll see what happens

  6. Matt Osborne Says:

    Backpacking Dad, don’t fret about it. After discovering in 8th grade civics class that I might be ineligible to run for president because my parents were in Paris when I was born, I did some very thorough research. It comes down to a question of status, not birthplace. As long as both your parents were US citizens at the time, you’re in like Flynn. So no excuses!!! Get out there and run…

    PunditChild might not qualify for president, but she sure wins the Cute award.

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