- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
In an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, the 42nd president discusses some other countries where he might be able to run for president — technically speaking, of course — and also reveals that he’s clearly spent a lot of time thinking about this:
Said Clinton: "There are only two countries I’m eligible to run for the leadership position is if I move to Ireland and buy a house, I can — I can run for president of Ireland, because of my Irish heritage."
"And because I was born in Arkansas, which is part of the Louisiana Purchase, any person anywhere in the world that was born in a place that ever was part of the French empire, if you move to — if you live in France for six months and speak French, you can run for president."
"However, I once polled very well in a French presidential race. And I said, you know, this is great, but that’s the best I’d ever do because once they heard my broken French with a Southern accent, I would drop into single digits within a week and I’d be toast."
I wrote an explainer at the height of the Obama-Trump birth certificate insanity looking into whether it would be theoretically possible for Obama to run for the president of some other country. For instance, the president could claim Kenyan citizenship through his Kenyan father and then run for the presidency after he establishes residency. But what about the less exotically backgrounded Bill?
FP contributor Alex Massie calls BS on the Ireland claim, noting that Clinton doesn’t have any Irish grandparents. According to Irish law, "Unless at least one parent or grandparent was an Irish citizen at the time of your birth, you cannot claim Irish citizenship on the basis of extended previous ancestry." It is possible for the Justice Minister to waive the requirement if "If you are of Irish descent or of Irish associations." So essentially, the current government can decide whether or not to make an exception for Clinton in order to greenlight his presidential ambitions. Popular as he is, this seems like an unlikely scenario.
What about France? Clinton likely got the Louisiana Purchase idea from political scientist Patrick Weil, who wrote an open letter to him in the New York Times in 2001 suggesting it:
Under Section 5 of Article 21-19 of the French civil code, citizens of states or territories over which France has ever exercised sovereignty or extended a mandate or protectorate may apply immediately for naturalization, without the normal five-year residency requirement.
Arkansas, where you were born, was once part of French Louisiana. And as a naturalized French citizen, you would have the same full rights as all other French citizens. That includes running for the presidency.
Unfortunately for Clinton, and his fellow Louisiana territory residents, Section 5 has been been abrogé and doesn’t appear in the current version of the code. According to a footnote in a 2004 New York Review of Books article, "After Weil’s article made this provision of the French nationality law notorious, the French parliament abolished it in on July 24, 2006."
Of course, it’s theoretically possible for Clinton to move to a country that doesn’t have a natural-born citizenship requirement for the presidency, become a citizen the old-fashioned way, and then run. But it doesn’t look like his birthplace or ancestry are going to help him out here.