WASHINGTON — Sen. Claire McCaskill might be pitching for Team Obama in the presidential campaign, but she went to bat Thursday for its potential rival.
The Missouri Democrat went to the Senate floor to try to remove any cloud of constitutional doubt that Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the likely Republican nominee, is eligible to serve as the president of United States.
Some kind of strange stunt to boost Sen. Barack Obama?
McCaskill is, after all, one of his strongest and most ubiquitous backers. You can't turn on a cable political show and not find her. And if the Illinois Democrat wins his party's nomination, he'd probably face McCain in the fall campaign.
But McCaskill's motives were pure.
She was responding to a New York Times story Thursday that raised questions about whether McCain was a "natural-born citizen" and eligible for the presidency.
"Every once in a while, you open the morning paper and go, 'Huh?' " McCaskill told her colleagues, "and I had one of those moments this morning."
McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936. His father was in the Navy, and that's where his parents were stationed at the time. The question, which never has been truly tested, was whether the circumstances of his birth met the constitutional bar.
McCaskill said Congress could remove any doubt by quickly passing a measure that she'd penned in longhand on a legal pad after huddling with her staff.
It would put the Senate on record as saying that "natural-born citizen" would include anyone born to a citizen while that citizen was serving in the military.
"We should quickly and without fanfare fix this ambiguity," McCaskill said.
Several presidential candidates have faced the same issue over the years but none ever won, so the question has remained unsettled.
The Times reported that McCain aides had researched the issue before he ran in 2000 and again this time and remain satisfied that he's on solid ground. Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson was preparing a legal analysis for McCain's campaign.
McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said McCaskill's bill was a "welcome gesture."
Susan Low Bloch, who teaches constitutional law at the Georgetown University Law Center, said she wasn't sure that McCain even had a problem.
But if he did, "then I don't think you can just fix the problem by anything short of amending the Constitution," she said.