US President Donald Trump has fuelled a discredited conspiracy theory about Joe Biden’s Democratic running mate Kamala Harris which suggested she may not be eligible to serve in the White House.
Born to a Jamaican father and Indian mother in Oakland, California, in 1964, Ms Harris would be the first black and Asian American vice president if Mr Biden wins the November election.
Mr Trump – who for years led the false so-called “birther” movement which cast doubt on former president Barack Obama’s US citizenship and eligibility to serve – told reporters he had “heard” that she “doesn’t qualify”.
He was responding to a question about an article in Newsweek by John Eastman, a conservative law professor, who questioned Ms Harris’s eligibility under the US Constitution because both of her parents are immigrants – a theory that critics have branded “racist”.
The president said at a news briefing: “I just heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements and by the way the lawyer that wrote that piece is a very highly qualified, very talented lawyer.
“I have no idea if that’s right. I would have assumed the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president.”
He added: “But that’s a very serious… you’re saying that, they’re saying that she doesn’t qualify because she wasn’t born in this country.”
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The reporter replied that Ms Harris was born in the US, but the claims suggest her parents may not have been legal permanent residents at that time.
Earlier on Thursday, Jenna Ellis, one of Mr Trump’s senior legal advisers, reposted a tweet from the head of conservative group Judicial Watch, which questioned whether Ms Harris was “ineligible to be vice president under the US Constitution’s ‘Citizenship Clause'”.
The US Constitution rules an American leader must be a natural-born citizen – which constitutional experts say makes the 55-year-old Californian senator eligible.
In his essay, Prof Eastman points to Article II of the constitution, saying: “No person except a natural born citizen… shall be eligible to the office of President.”
His argument hinges on the idea that Ms Harris may not have been subject to “complete” US jurisdiction if her parents were, for example, on student visas at the time of their daughter’s birth.
Constitutional law experts swiftly shut down the conspiracy theory, noting that the constitution is clear.
Josh Chafetz, a professor at Georgetown University Law Centre who specialises in constitutional law, told the website FactCheck.org: “To serve as president, one must be at least 35 years old, have been a resident of the United States for at least 14 years, and be a ‘natural born Citizen’ (Article II, sec. 1 of the Constitution). Additionally, one cannot have already been president for more than a term and a half (22nd Amendment).”
He also called the conspiracy theory “racist nonsense”.
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Meghan McCain, the daughter of former Republican candidate John McCain, tweeted: “This is a gross, dark trend in American politics about birth qualification which is all clear and obvious. Stop.”
John McCain faced questions about his eligibility to serve as president, given he was born on a US naval base in Panama.