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Arizona "Birther" Bill Dismissed by White House, Slammed by Critics


Kyrsten Sinema, a Democratic representative in the Arizona state legislature, said the "birther bill" recently advanced in the Arizona House would make the state "the laughing stock of the nation." Reaction to the legislation indicates people agree.

The Arizona House of Representatives on Monday voted 31 - 22 to advance a bill that would require Arizona's secretary of state to review a presidential candidate's birth certificate before that candidate could get on the ballot in the state.

The Arizona Republic reports, "The legislation originated from a fringe group that believes President Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States and therefore ineligible to be president."

The so-called "birther movement," questioning Mr. Obama's origins, began during his presidential campaign. It has steadily persisted through Mr. Obama's presidency, in spite of overwhelming evidence he was born in the United States -- including his 1961 birth announcement, printed in two Hawaii newspapers.

The White House has been dismissive of the legislation.

"I can't imagine Arizona voters think their tax dollars are well served by a legislature that is less focused on their lives than in fringe right-wing radio conspiracy theories," White House spokesman Bill Burton told CNN.

Robert Schlesinger at U.S. News and World Report took a harsher tone, writing that "members of the Arizona state House have made a strong bid for this year's coveted 'nuttiest legislative body' award."

Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly took the whole Republican Party to task, since the bill was supported by members of the Arizona GOP: "The fact that fringe lunacy is being taken seriously at this level suggests a strain of contemporary Republican thought that's gone stark raving mad," he wrote.

Jon Healey of the Los Angeles Times noted in an opinion piece that Republicans and Tea Partiers in California have taken some steps to distance themselves from the "birther movement," recently rescinding an invitation to Orly Taitz, a leading figure in the birther movement, for a Tea Party event. Still, he wrote that the legislation demonstrates "that the best political myths have half lives that rival some radioactive isotopes."

The legislation still needs to clear major hurdles before become law: the Arizona House needs to give its formal approval, as does the state Senate. Then, the governor needs to sign it. The bill was tacked on as an amendment to another bill that modifies how candidates' names appear on the Arizona ballot.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett has expressed concern that the amendment may violate the Constitution, the Arizona Republic reports, since it would create state-level eligibility requirements for a federal campaign.

Arizona lawmakers also this week approved a highly controversial immigration bill. It would require police to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they're in the country illegally, which civil rights groups, the Mexican embassy, a Roman Catholic cardinal and others have said would lead to racial profiling.

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