Catching up with Roy Blunt on Birtherism

Prominent GOP congressman seems to duck and weave on Birther sympathies

Published July 30, 2009 7:30PM (EDT)

Getting answers from Republican elected officials on the question of President Obama’s birth certificate and eligibility for the White House is a little like Whack-a-Mole. Representatives say something dubious about the president, then disappear behind a spokesperson’s deflection, or reemerge a day later to say it again. For the last 24 hours or so, the molehole of the day has belonged to one Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

It started when Firedoglake's Mike Stark got a surprisingly strong expression of doubt about the president’s origins from Blunt. The Missouri Republican, a former House GOP leader and current candidate for Senate, told Stark on video, “What I don't know is why the President can't produce a birth certificate. I don't know anybody else that can't produce one. And I think that's a legitimate question. No health records, no birth certificate.”

When Greg Sargent called up Blunt spokesperson Rich Chrismer to ask about Blunt's position, he got a total non-answer. Rather than discuss the congressman’s views on the birth certificate, Chrismer accused Stark of selectively editing the video.

Here’s what Sargent wrote:

Chrismer’s response: He’s accusing the blogger of selectively editing the interview and taking Blunt’s quotes out of context. “We encourage this blog to release the video of the entire interview instead of the edited version,” Chrismer told me.

When I asked Chrismer directly whether Blunt believes Obama is legitimately the president, Chrismer didn’t directly answer, instead repeating: “We’re e[n]couraging the blog to release the entire interview.”

When I asked Chrismer the same question again, Chrismer again sidestepped and repeated the same demand. Asked if he knew what Blunt, the former number two in the GOP House leadership, said that had been allegedly edited out, Chrismer said he didn’t.

Stark released the full video Thursday; it's two videos actually, of separate interviews conducted on consecutive days. In the first, Blunt tells Stark he believes Obama was born in the U.S. In the second, Stark reminds the congressman of his previous statement, and Blunt responds, "I don't have any reason not to believe that." He then goes on to pose the questions quoted above.

Salon left a voicemail with Chrismer Thursday afternoon seeking further comment and clarification. He replied by e-mail, "We are pleased this blog was pressured to release the unedited video so now everyone can see how they took Roy Blunt's comments out of context. He did not state that he doubted that President Obama was born in the United States and did not suggest Obama is not the President."

Salon sent a follow-up question by e-mail, "Does the congressman believe that the president was born in the United States, or that there is a 'legitimate question' about whether he was?"

Chrismer's reply: "As the unedited video makes clear he did not state that he doubted that President Obama was born in the United States and did not suggest Obama is not the President."

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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