By David Jackson, USA TODAY
Donald Trump said Friday he now believes President Obama was born in the United States, seeking to bury an issue he has used repeatedly the past five-and-a-half years to appeal to ultra-conservative audiences.
“President Obama was born in the United States — period,” Trump said after a campaign event featuring decorated veterans endorsing him.
Trump walked off the stage without taking questions.
As reporters in the back of the room stood, yelled and shouted questions at Trump, the crowd invited to the event began yelling “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
In his brief statement — little more than 30 seconds — the Republican nominee also blamed Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for starting “birther” rumors during the 2008 primary against Obama, but there is no factual basis for that claim.
The New York businessman offered no apology or explanation for why he promoted the so-called “birther” issue since at least 2011.
Clinton, speaking Friday to an African-American women’s group in Washington, D.C, dismissed Trump’s changed position, accusing him of leading “the birther movement to de-legitimize our first black president,” and adding that his entire presidential campaign was “founded on this outrageous lie.”
After Trump’s brief statement, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said “it was appalling to watch Trump appoint himself the judge of whether the President of the United States is American — this sickening display shows more than ever why Donald Trump is totally unfit be president.”
Trump, who had not personally said Obama was born in Hawaii before Friday, announced earlier in the day he would make a special announcement on the topic.
“We have to keep the suspense going,” the Republican presidential nominee told Fox Business Network just hours before a campaign event at his new hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Most of the event consisted of military veterans endorsing Trump — only at the end did he address the Obama birthplace issue, and then for less than a minute.
Obama, born in Hawaii in 1961, declined to discuss Trump before a White House meeting on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership with Pacific Rim nations, telling reporters: “I’m shocked that a question like that would come up at a time when we’ve got so many other things to do. Well, I’m not that shocked actually — it’s fairly typical.”
The president added: “I was pretty confident about where I was born. I think most people were, as well. And my hope would be that the presidential election reflects more serious issues than that.”
Trump himself, who rose to political prominence in part by arguing that Obama was born overseas, prolonged the dispute in an interview this week, telling The Washington Post Thursday, “I’ll answer that question at the right time” and “I just don’t want to answer it yet.”
In the wake of that comment, Trump spokesman Jason Miller issued a statement saying that “Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States,” though Clinton and her aides quickly pointed out that the candidate himself had not said that.
“President Obama’s successor cannot and will not be the man who led the racist birther movement. Period,” tweeted Clinton.
Over the years, polls have shown that most Trump supporters and in some cases most Republicans doubt the president’s U.S. citizenship, even after the birth certificate release.
Obama issued his Hawaii birth certificate in 2011, partly in response to Trump’s jibes, but the issue has not died during Trump’s bid for the presidency.
Trump and his aides actually take credit for the birth certificate release, which Trump said “finished” the controversy. Miller’s statement also accused the Clinton campaign of 2008 of raising this issue against Obama during that year’s Democratic primaries, though there’s no evidence tying those charges to the candidate. Some die-hard Clinton supporters did question Obama’s birthplace at the time.
Trump’s statement in full: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
Earlier in the week, Trump aides suggested that Friday’s event would be a news conference; the description was later changed to “campaign event,” and Trump did not take questions.
Some analysts greeted Trump’s brief announcement Friday with skepticism.
“You don’t just get to push eight years of race-baiting lies about the president and then pull a ‘never mind!’ Let’s not pretend otherwise,” tweeted Seth Mandel, op-ed editor of The New York Post.
John Weaver, a Republican strategist who worked for Ohio governor and Trump primary opponent John Kasich, tweeted that the media should not let Trump “get away with this Orwellian revisionism regarding his smear of the President.”
One of the speakers at the event, retired Gen. Thomas McInerney, has also publicly questioned whether Obama was born in this country.