WASHINGTON — Donald Trump, who for years publicly questioned President Barack Obama’s citizenship and led the push for the commander-in-chief to release his birth certificate, abandoned his long-standing position on Friday.
The Republican presidential candidate, in brief remarks before supporters here declared: “President Barack Obama was born in the United States period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
Trump delivered the terse statement at the end of a nearly hourlong campaign event at his new Trump International Hotel here.
After touting his new hotel and listening to military supporters praise him for an hour, the real estate mogul known for delivering lengthy fiery speeches, conceded Obama was a U.S. born citizen in about a 30-second statement.
The event initially was billed as a news conference for Trump to clarify his views on Obama’s citizenship. But Trump left without responding to questions shouted by reporters asking why he had waited so long to acknowledge the two-term president was a U.S. citizen.
Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton and Democratic leaders condemned Trump’s about-face. They said it was too late for him to walk back his questioning of Obama’s citizenship, an issue that helped elevate Trump’s national political profile.
“For five years, he has led the birther movement to delegitimize our first black president,” Clinton said in remarks before The Black Women’s Agenda conference in Washington D.C. “His campaign was founded on this outrageous lie. There is no erasing it in history.”
Beginning in 2011, Trump as the de-facto leader of the so-called “birther movement” made frequent television appearances questioning whether Obama was born in the U.S., and demanded that the president release his birth certificate.
“I would like to have him show his birth certificate, and can I be honest with you, I hope he can,” Trump said in an April 2011 interview on NBC’s Today Show. “Because if he can’t, if he can’t, if he wasn’t born in this country, which is a real possibility … then he has pulled one of the great cons in the history of politics.”
Obama, who was born Aug. 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii, released his birth certificate months later at a White House news conference. He said he was doing so because “we’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.”
Asked about Trump’s comments on Friday, Obama said he was “pretty confident” about where he was born.
“My hope would be that the presidential election reflects more serious issues than that,” Obama told White House reporters.
For the past two weeks, Trump has been pressed by reporters to clarify his position on Obama’s citizenship, after his campaign surrogates in multiple television interviews said he indeed believed the president was a U.S. native.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said in an interview on CNN last week that Trump no longer questioned the president’s citizenship. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump supporter and adviser, also repeated the talking point in recent TV interviews. But Trump continued to dodge the question, telling reporters he was “done” talking about the issue.
Trump on Friday accused Clinton of starting the birther movement during her 2008 Democratic primary campaign against Obama.
When Trump made a similar assertion on Twitter last year, the fact checking website PolitiFact called it false.
The website noted that as early as April 2008 a Clinton supporter forwarded an email that said Obama’s mother, a U. S-born citizen, was living in Kenya when she gave birth. While Clinton’s supporters may have spread the email, there was no evidence indicating Clinton or her 2008 campaign staff played a role in its dissemination or in pushing the theory that Obama was not born in the U.S., according to PolitiFact and FactCheck.org.
Former Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, in an interview on CNN Friday, said that in 2007 “there was a volunteer coordinator” in Iowa who “did forward an email that promoted the conspiracy,” prompting Clinton to “immediately let that person go.”
Trump’s campaign pointed to a leaked 2007 memo from a Clinton campaign pollster as more evidence that Clinton pushed the birther theory. The March 2007 memo included a recommendation that the Clinton campaign portray Obama as “fundamentally” foreign. But Clinton never adopted the recommendation and instead focused on Obama’s political inexperience, her aides have said.
In a radio interview last September, Clinton called Trump’s accusation “ludicrous,” and “untrue.”
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, released a statement shortly after the Trump event Friday, calling it “appalling to watch to watch Trump appoint himself the judge of whether the President of the United States is American.”
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid called Trump “an immoral fraud.”
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus at a news conference denounced Trump as a “liar” who owed Obama an apology for fanning conspiracy theories.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D- Brooklyn) called Trump a “two-bit racial arsonist,” and urged voters “don’t walk to the polls, don’t jog to the polls, run to the polls.”
First Lady Michelle Obama, speaking at a Washington D.C. conference, touched upon Trump’s comments without mentioning him by name.
“And then of course there were those who questioned and continued to question for the past eight years up until this very day whether my husband was even born in this country,” she said. “Well, during his time in office Barack has answered with the example he set by going high when they go low.”
With Emily Ngo and Tom Brune