WASHINGTON — Confronting growing doubts that could undermine his re-election bid, President Barack Obama on Wednesday delivered an extraordinary rebuttal to those questioning whether he was born in the United States and eligible to hold office, producing a detailed birth certificate and pleading for a long “sideshow” to end.
Obama’s surprising intervention came as the White House saw that doubts about his birth in Hawaii — and therefore his legitimacy to be president — were growing, consuming more of the political debate and the mainstream media’s attention.
Until now, the White House had deflected demands for Obama to produce his long-form birth certificate, apparently content that voters would see the issue as frivolous, perhaps even to the president’s benefit.
The White House calculation Wednesday was that it was necessary to step in and try to deflate the issue, even though doing so meant Obama ended up swamping the news with the very topic he said he wanted to quash.
Donald Trump, weighing a campaign against Obama, crowed that he had forced the president’s hand.
On TV, Obama said the issue was distraction from the important matters of the day: budget deficits and soaring gasoline prices.
“We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” Obama said in a hurriedly announced appearance in the White House briefing room. “We’ve got better stuff to do.”
He portrayed himself as the voice of reason in a loud, lingering debate, essentially saying that the nation was above all this. The president also sought to push to the national fringe anyone who refused to accept the facts about his birth, taking an indirect swipe at Trump, who has been loudly stirring up the matter.
“We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers,” Obama said before TV cameras at the White House.
Trump, the real estate developer who was making campaign-like stops in New Hampshire, proudly took the credit for getting Obama to show further proof of his birth in Hawaii.
“I hope it’s true so we can get on to much more important matters,” Trump said.
Obama had released a standard short form of his birth certificate before he was elected in 2008 but requested copies of his original birth certificate from Hawaii officials in hopes of killing the controversy. Until Wednesday, the White House had insisted that the short form certificate was the appropriate legal document confirming Obama’s birth and no further proof was needed. In addition, officials in Hawaii had said the longer version could not be released, and the White House had not tried to get past that.
In his remarks, Obama tried to make a broader point that the country needs adult leaders with serious agendas. It is part of his campaign appeal to voters, particularly independents who swung away from his party in last year’s midterm elections, that he is the one focused on getting results.
Doubts about his birth in America, though widely debunked, have been growing. A recent New York Times-CBS News poll found that fully 45 percent of adult Republicans said they believed Obama was born in another country or weren’t sure.
At the same time, many Republican leaders have been wary of the topic, not wanting to be linked to an extreme argument. Plenty of Republican Party leaders who vehemently oppose Obama’s policies would still like to see the issue go away, as it can be an unwanted distraction for them, too.
The chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, managed to agree with Obama that the birth issue was a distraction — and yet accused Obama for playing politics by addressing it. Republicans escaped fault in his statement even though the falsehoods about Obama’s birth have come from the far right.
The Republican leaders of the House and Senate put out no statements at all.
The Constitution says a president must be a “natural born citizen.” Obama’s skeptics assert he was born in Kenya, his father’s home country.
When the issue surfaced during his presidential run, Obama’s campaign posted his basic birth certificate online. For much of the past two years, the issue has been marginal. And then it flared again as critics clamored for the long-form certificate of birth.
In response, Obama secured special authority to secure two official copies of the more detailed certificate. He dispatched his personal attorney to fly to Hawaii, get the certificates and hand deliver them back to the White House.
The certificate says Barack Hussein Obama II was born at 7:24 p.m. on Aug. 4, 1961, at Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu.
It is signed by the delivery doctor, Obama’s mother and the local registrar. His mother, then 18, signed her name (Stanley) Ann Dunham Obama.
There’s no mention of religion. The certificate says his father, Barack Hussein Obama, age 25, was African and born in Kenya and his mother was Caucasian and born in Wichita, Kan. Obama’s mother and the doctor signed the certificate on Aug. 7 and 8.
The family of the doctor, David Sinclair, said Wednesday they were honored that he had delivered Obama. Sinclair died in 2003 at 81, his son told The Associated Press.
The White House pays close attention when its message is getting drowned out by other issues. And Obama himself seemed to hit the tipping point when, in his view, media coverage was skewed toward coverage of his birth certificate even in the midst of big news about competing budget-cutting plans and the future of the country.
Thus, an apparently unprecedented moment in American politics: An elected president, after more than 800 days in office, still defending his legitimacy to serve and prodding people to drop “this thing that just keeps on going.”
“I think that he had no choice at this point,” said Diana Owen, an associate professor of political science and director of American studies at Georgetown University. “I think he was seeing his own agenda being derailed by some fringe candidate that was raising these kinds of issues about his personal life.”
She added: “If you don’t deal with something that you think is beneath your dignity, you may end up paying for it later.”
Obama quickly left the stage after making his appeal for a national debate on the most serious issues of the day. He was off to Chicago for an appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s television show and then to New York City to raise money for his re-election.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Liz Sidoti contributed to this story.