After he left Wall Street to enter politics eight years ago, Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, began fielding the occasional question of when he intended to run for president. “It has come up in jest any number of times,” said Mr. Himes, who always has his answer ready. “There could be constitutional questions.” Mr. Himes, you see, was born in Peru in 1966 while his father worked for the Ford Foundation. That makes him one of at least 17 current members of Congress who, because of their birth outside the United States, could run afoul of the Constitution’s “natural born citizen” presidential requirement should they try to relocate down Pennsylvania Avenue.
For generations, confusion and uncertainty have surrounded this murky presidential qualification. It is a question that dogged President Obama, and even his challenger in 2008, Senator John McCain. With “birtherism” now seemingly a regular feature of American politics, demand is mounting for a definitive answer to the modern meaning of “natural born,” a term that was crafted in an era when ocean crossings took months and people rarely ventured more than a few miles beyond where they were born.
“We need to resolve this issue,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who was born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1959 when his father was an American diplomat. “Obviously there are still some outstanding legal questions.”