WASHINGTON -- A prominent Republican running for the U.S. Senate in Michigan has emerged as yet another proponent of the "birther" movement, according to a YouTube video that surfaced on Tuesday. While speaking to a Michigan Tea Party group in early May, former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoesktra proposed a brand-new office to verify the eligibility of presidential candidates and criticized 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain over his dismissal of the "birther" issue.
Responding to a questioner, Hoesktra said in early May, "With this president, the book is closed. I hate to say it but I think the debate's over."
He continued, "We lost that debate, and we lost that debate in 2008 when our presidential nominee [McCain] said, 'I ain't talking about it.'" McCain corrected a questioner who said that then-candidate Barack Obama is an "Arab."
Hoekstra then proposed something new. "I'd like to establish a three-person office in Washington, D.C., knowing it would grow to five," he said to laughs. "There's no reason why we should have this kind of question for a president of the United States."
He elaborated on his proposed agency. "This is not a brain surgery. It should be an FBI person, maybe a CIA person and one person managing those two people. And just if you want to run for president, you’ve got to go with the right, proper documentation and go to that person and get it certified that you meet the qualifications to be president of the United States."
"It's embarrassing that we are at that point where that ever became an issue," Hoekstra said. "Sorry, I'd love to give you an answer and say I'm going to fight it and we're going to beat it and we're going to win it. I think it wasn't fought and we lost."
During the previous presidential election contest, Obama's campaign released a scanned copy of his birth certificate and the White House released a long form copy in April 2011. Both showed that he was born in Hawaii on Aug. 4, 1961. The release of both documents has not quelled conspiracy theories surrounding the president's origins. Real estate mogul Donald Trump, who on Tuesday held a fundraiser with current GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is the loudest voice trumpeting doubts about the president's birth.
On Wednesday Michigan Democratic Party quickly pounced on the exchange, first reported by The Hill. "You can’t get much further outside the mainstream than calling for the creation of a birther office staffed by the CIA and FBI," said Mark Brewer, chairman of the state party in a statement.
"Our leaders should be focused on creating jobs, not on creating a new federal bureaucracy to comb through birth certificates," he added. "Hoekstra’s radical plan to appoint a Birther Czar shows just how far he’ll go to win the support of Tea Party radicals like Donald Trump."
A Hoekstra spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
An unsuccessful 2010 candidate for governor, Hoekstra is now running against Clark Durant, the former state Board of Education president, and several other candidates in the GOP primary. The winner will face Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow in the general election. The Cook Political Report rates the race as "lean Democratic," meaning that Stabenow is slightly favored to win.
During the Super Bowl in February, Hoekstra ran an ad about China's buying of U.S. debt starring an Asian woman speaking broken English and hitting his opponent as Debbie SpendItNow. Democrats and civil rights groups criticized the ad as racist and stereotyped. Stabenow raised money as a result, while Hoekstra's fundraising dropped in the first quarter of this year, compared with the last quarter of 2011.
UPDATE: 5: 15 p.m. --
Hoekstra defended his proposal on CNN on Wednesday. "This has nothing to do with Barack Obama," he said. "This has nothing to do about the past."
Added Hoekstra: "This is all looking forward and 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.'"
Hoekstra continued, "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. We'll never have this kind of debate again. Let's talk about the real issues."
The candidate softened his criticism of McCain when asked about his earlier comments. "In 2008, our presidential nominee, the head of our political party, John McCain, decided that this was an issue that he was not going to pursue and moved on and talked about the things that he believed were most important about the campaign," Hoekstra said.
"I don't know if that was an opportunity that was missed or not," he said.
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