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Trump weighs in after campaign adviser floats false birther theory about Harris' eligibility to be vice president

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Washington — President Trump weighed in Thursday on the false "birther" theory that Kamala Harris doesn't qualify to be vice president. His comments came after a legal adviser to Mr. Trump's reelection campaign amplified a false theory questioning her eligibility because of the immigration status of her parents when she was born. 

Harris was born in Oakland, California, on October 20, 1964. Constitutional scholars and Supreme Court precedent have long held that anyone born in the U.S. is an American citizen, which makes them eligible for the presidency. Whether her parents were naturalized citizens or not does not change her citizenship or affect her eligibility, a constitutional law expert told CBS News.

In a press conference Thursday, President Trump waded into the issue when he was asked whether or not he thinks Harris "meets the legal requirements to run as vice president."

"I heard it today that she doesn't meet the requirements," Mr. Trump said, adding he wasn't sure what the case was. He praised the law professor who proposed the theory, John Eastman, as a "very highly qualified, very talented lawyer," but added, "I have no idea if that's right." 

He went on, "I would have assumed the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president. But that's a very serious — you're saying that — they're saying she doesn't qualify because she wasn't born in this country?" 

Corrected by the reporter, who said that was not the case, the president replied, "I don't know about it. I just heard about it. I'll take a look."

Earlier Thursday, Jenna Ellis, a Trump campaign adviser, reposted a tweet from Tom Fitton, the president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, in which he asked whether Harris is "ineligible to be Vice President under the U.S. Constitution's 'Citizenship Clause'" and shared the op-ed Eastman published in Newsweek.

Ellis told CBS News that whether Harris, a California senator, can be vice president is an "open question, and one I think Harris should answer so the American people know for sure she is eligible."

But Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of Berkeley Law School and a constitutional law expert, told CBS News in an email that the issue "is a truly silly argument." 

"Under section 1 of the 14th Amendment, anyone born in the United States is a United States citizen. The Supreme Court has held this since the 1890s. Kamala Harris was born in the United States," he said. The relevant portion of the 14th Amendment reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

"Some conservatives, such as John Eastman, think that is wrong and being born in the country is not enough," Chemerinsky added. "[They're] clearly wrong under the language of the 14th Amendment and under Supreme Court precedent."

The controversial op-ed written by Eastman was published after Joe Biden announced Harris as his running mate Tuesday. Eastman ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for California attorney general in 2010 and lost to Steve Cooley. In the general election, Cooley was defeated by Harris, a Democrat.

Claims about Harris's eligibility also emerged when she launched her presidential bid in early 2019, but were dismissed. 

In his opinion piece, Eastman said there are "some" questioning whether Harris can be vice president, because neither of her parents were naturalized U.S. citizens when she was born.

"That, according to these commentators, makes her not a 'natural born citizen' — and therefore ineligible for the office of the president and, hence, ineligible for the office of the vice president," Eastman wrote, without naming the "commentators."

Eastman went on to write that before voters "so cavalierly accept Senator Harris' eligibility" to serve as vice president, questions should be posed "about the status of her parents at the time of her birth."

Harris's mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a breast-cancer scientist who emigrated from India; her father, Donald Harris, was a professor from Jamaica. Harris is the first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent to be selected as a major party's vice presidential candidate.

The theory put forth by Eastman and shared by Ellis is reminiscent of Mr. Trump's own yearslong promotion of the so-called birther conspiracy, in which he falsely claimed President Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S.

Mr. Trump first suggested in 2011 that Mr. Obama, the first Black president, didn't have a birth certificate, and it wasn't until 2016 that he backed away from the disproven claim, saying "President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period."

Nicole Sganga contributed to this report.

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