Longtime GOP lawmaker questions legitimacy of Obama birth certificate

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), already under fire for allegations he bribed his primary opponent to drop out of the race, questioned the legitimacy of President Obama's birth certificate at a town-hall meeting.

Meeting with constituents in Belleview, Fla., on Feb. 25, Stearns was asked about Obama's citizenship and whether a grand jury was looking into the issue. Stearns said the "general consensus" was that Obama had produced a birth certificate.

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"The question is, is it legitimate? That’s where we stand now," Stearns said in a video first obtained by the blog Think Progress. "I’ve seen a copy of it on television. But you know the governor of Hawaii couldn’t get what he felt was an original of the birth certificate. He tried to do it and gave up on it."

Overwhelming evidence shows that Obama was born in Hawaii and is a U.S. citizen, but members of what has been called the "birther" movement have continued to dispute his nationality and argue that he cannot constitutionally serve as president.

In April 2011, the White House released Obama's long-form birth certificate to the public, hoping to put the issue to bed once and for all. But the issue has popped back up repeatedly — most recently in early March, when Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he had evidence the document was a fake. Real estate mogul Donald Trump, who was considering making a bid for the GOP presidential nod, has also questioned Obama's citizenship.

"I think what Obama’s showing is a facsimile, but I think that debate probably is not enough, shall we say, just to impeach him," said Stearns, a 12-term lawmaker. "We’re going to have an election in five or six months, so we can change the course of history by electing someone other than Obama."

Stearns told constituents to focus on beating Obama in the ballot box — not because the "birther" allegations were false, necessarily, but because it would be easier to achieve politically.

"If we started impeachment this time of year, [it would be] very difficult in terms of time and strength," Stearns said.

Stearns was accused last week by James Jett, his challenger in the Republican primary, of offering him a $25,000 bribe to get out of the race. Jett said he had audio recordings to back up his claims and that the FBI was investigating. But Stearns called it an unfounded and contemptuous attempt to slander his name.

The winner of the GOP primary is expected to win the House seat in this Republican-leaning district. In 2010, Stearns beat his opponents in the primary and the general election by 42 points each.