Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) defended his proposal to create a new federal commission staffed with FBI and CIA officers that would investigate presidential candidates’ place of birth Wednesday, after video of him suggesting such a group surfaced online.
Hoekstra, who is running for Senate and hoping to challenge incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), first pitched the idea at a town hall last month, footage of which surfaced Wednesday. The Michigan Democratic Party derided the idea as a “birther office” and said it placed Hoekstra firmly in the Donald Trump zone of the conservative fringe.
Appearing on CNN, Hoekstra defended the proposed bureau from aggressive questioning by Brooke Baldwin. He insisted that his proposal had nothing to do with President Obama, who has battled a litany of phony rumors about his birthplace over the last four years, rumors referenced by the very town hall questioner that prompted Hoekstra’s initial commission proposal.
“This is all looking forward, saying we have requirements in place, we have requirements in some states where people when they go to vote they’ve got to show a driver’s license,” he said. “You would think that we could at least make sure that when someone decides to run for office that we know that they meet the minimum requirements and we’ll never have this kind of debate again.”
But Baldwin challenged him on just what “problem” Hoekstra was trying to correct if his idea had nothing to do with the birther conspiracies surrounding Obama.
“Well, what happened is you’re still having this ongoing debate with some people moving this forward,” he said. “I’m not participating in that debate, I think this issue has been settled and, you know, I just want to make sure in future elections — and this is not a top priority for me, OK? This is kind of like, you know, this can take care of itself.”
Baldwin aired a clip of an infamous Hoekstra ad that aired during this year’s Super Bowl, since pulled from his website, in which an actress depicted a Chinese villager thanking Hoekstra’s opponent in broken English for running up the national debt.
“Critics called you a racist for that ad,” Baldwin said. “Do you realize that critics might use this office, this proposal for this office, as further proof?”
Hoekstra was not happy to see the old wound reopened.
“I don’t know why they would take it in that direction,” Hoekstra said. “Excuse me, you’re taking this into an area where I see absolutely no connection at all. When someone where, you know, for office, asking them to certify that they meet the requirements for president, what is — I’m not even going to use the term. It’s an outrageous term and an outrageous question.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.