Seeking to end three days of distractions from his campaign, Texas Gov. Rick Perry says in an interview to air Sunday that he has no doubt that President Obama is an American citizen, saying he was only kidding around about the issue when he raised doubts about where Obama was born.
The St. Petersburg Times reported today that Perry told the newspaper, when asked if he thinks Obama is an American citizen, "I have no doubt about it." (See transcript at the end of this story.)
Though Perry has repeatedly called the so-called "birther" talk a "distraction," he has continued the sideshow by refusing to answer questions about whether he believes Obama was born in the United States. It has had a negative impact on his campaign, overshadowing at times the tax and entitlement reform proposals he unveiled on Monday and Tuesday. And it raised the question of potential pandering by the Perry campaign to extremists in the Republican Party who maintain that Obama's origins are suspect in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, he was asked by CNN's Jim Acosta whether he believes Obama is a U.S. citizen. The campaign organized the briefing to announce Perry's endorsements by the South Carolina House speaker and several state legislators, but the biggest news to come out of the event was Perry's refusal to answer Acosta's question.
Perry kicked off the controversy over the weekend in an interview with Parade magazine, in which he waffled when asked if he believes the president was born in the United States. Pressed to give a definitive answer, he said that celebrity real estate mogul Donald Trump thinks the birth certificate is fake.
Then on Tuesday morning, before delivering his centerpiece speech about tax and entitlement reform, he briefly discussed the Obama birth certificate issue with CNBC journalist John Harwood and said: "It's a good issue to keep alive" adding, "It's fun."
It's not the first time a presidential candidate has gotten into trouble for kidding around in interviews. Businessman Herman Cain came under fire for saying he was only joking when he called for an electrified fence on the border with Mexico.
Here is the portion of the St. Petersburg Times interview dealing with the citizenship issue:
Reporter: Jeb Bush said the other day, the Republican candidates should categorically reject the notion that Barack Obama was not born in America. This came after you expressed doubts about that.. what would you say to him?
Perry: "I don't think I was expressing doubts. I was just having some fun with Donald Trump. So I...
Reporter: Are you comfortable that he's an American citizen?
Perry: "Oh yeah. It's fun to... ya know lighten up a little bit.. "
Reporter: So you have no doubt he's an American citizen?
Perry: "I have no doubt about it. But here's the more interesting thing. Let's lay out our income taxes. Let's lay our our college transcripts. Mine's been on the front page of the paper. So if we're going to lay out all these things, let's lay them all out. So, whether it's college transcripts or income tax, lay them all out. Let the people take a look at them."