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Panel mulls letting immigrants run

WASHINGTON -- It's not about Arnold, lawmakers indicated.

But the California governor was certainly one of the rising stars on many minds yesterday as a Senate panel talked about amending the Constitution to let immigrants occupy the White House.

Measures discussed by the senators would remove the prohibition against foreign-born presidents, opening the job to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, along with millions of others.

"This restriction has become an anachronism that is decidedly un-American," said Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Hatch and other lawmakers barely mentioned the Austrian-born Schwarzenegger, a Republican, or the Canadian-born Granholm, a Democrat. But both have said they support changing the Constitution, and Schwarzenegger's starring role at the Republican National Convention left Republicans buzzing.

"This hearing would certainly not be complete if the name of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was not mentioned at least once, but of course he is just one famous example," said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California.

Hatch, Rohrabacher, and Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, have proposed amending the Constitution to allow immigrants to run for president after being citizens for 20 years. A measure sponsored by Representative Vic Snyder, an Arkansas Democrat, would require 35 years.

Schwarzenegger became a citizen in 1983, Granholm in 1980.

Amending the Constitution would require two-thirds majority votes in the House and Senate, then approval by three-fourths of states.

The presidency was the one office the founding fathers barred to immigrants, apparently driven by concerns of foreign meddling or a resumption of monarchy, according to scholars who testified yesterday. Those fears are outdated, they said.

California's senior senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, was the one lawmaker to express strong reservations. The requirement "may not be a bad thing, it may be a strengthening thing," she said.

The Democrat said later her concerns had nothing to do with Schwarzenegger.

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