Hatch Puts Hold on ‘Arnold ’08’

Posted May 19, 2004 at 6:14pm

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) shouldn’t start planning a 2008 presidential campaign just yet.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who first raised such a possibility last year, said Wednesday that it may take a while to remove the constitutional obstacle preventing Schwarzenegger or any other foreign-born U.S. citizen from running for president of the United States.

Last July, during the height of California Republicans’ ultimately successful efforts to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and replace him with Schwarzenegger, Hatch introduced a constitutional amendment to remove the requirement that U.S. presidents be native-born citizens.

Instead, presidents would be required to have been naturalized U.S. citizens for at least 20 years. Coincidentally — or not — Schwarzenegger, an Austrian-born bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-politician, has been a U.S. citizen for roughly 20 years. When introducing the amendment, Hatch said it was not targeted to help any particular individuals.

“It’s almost impossible to pass any constitutional amendment,” Hatch said in an interview. “You have to let it sit and let people think about it awhile.”

That’s why Hatch is not pressing for Senate floor action on the measure this year, but he said he hopes to have at least one hearing before the 108th Congress concludes. A Judiciary hearing that had been scheduled for July 2003 was indefinitely postponed.

Hatch said he plans to reintroduce the measure again in the 109th Congress, which will begin in January 2005.

He also said he is toying with the notion of scrapping the 20-year citizenship limit for a longer duration.

The reactions to Hatch’s efforts have been “mixed,” the Utah Senator said, with some people rejecting most calls to amend the Constitution, which has been changed only 27 times in 215 years.

Others believe, as Hatch said, that the native-born citizenship requirement has “long outlived its usefulness.” Meanwhile, the amendment would keep in place constitutional requirements that presidents be at least 35 years old and live in the United States for at least 14 years.

Hatch’s “take it slow” approach reflects the difficulty of passing an amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers for approval, and then the approval of three-fourths of state legislatures.

Besides Schwarzenegger, Hatch’s constitutional amendment would allow Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), who was born in Canada, to run for president.

It also would allow foreign-born Cabinet members, such as former secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, to remain in the line of succession. Though the Constitution specifies that the secretary of State is in line to become president if the president, vice president, Speaker and President Pro Tem are all incapacitated, Kissinger and Albright were not eligible to fulfill that role.