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Recall spotlights drive to let foreign-born citizens run for president | (KRT) Fearful of the potential influence of foreign powers, America's founding fathers required a president to be born in the United States. Now, some in Congress want to change that constitutional provision, proposing amendments that could allow the Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger to one day take a shot at the White House.

Both proposals - one by a Republican, the other by a Democrat - were introduced earlier this year, before Schwarzenegger became a GOP candidate for governor in California's recall election. Constitutional amendments are extremely difficult to pass. But there are reasons why both parties want to change what many consider to be an outdated protection that prevents prestigious foreign-born Americans like former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright from running for president.

For Republicans, the high-profile job of leading the nation's largest state automatically vaults California's governor into the top tier of presidential candidates. In addition to Schwarzenegger, two Republican members of President Bush's cabinet who normally would fall in the presidential line of succession - Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez - are foreign-born.

For Democrats, an amendment would benefit one of the party's rising stars, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who was born in Canada.

Vic Snyder, D-Ark., who introduced legislation in the House of Representatives in June to allow foreign-born citizens to become president, said he wasn't motivated by any of those people. He was thinking of his niece, a teenager who was adopted from South Korea.

"She's very much aware that she's not eligible to run for president," Snyder said. `I think all kids ought to have that dream."

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Snyder's proposal would allow any foreign-born person to run for president after 35 years as a U.S. citizen. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced a similar amendment in July that would cut the time to 20 years. Schwarzenegger recently celebrated his 20th year as a U.S. citizen.

Hatch told the National Press Club last week that his proposal was not designed for Schwarzenegger, who publicly supported Hatch in his 1994 Senate race. But Hatch also said it would be a shame if any U.S. citizen, including Schwarzenegger, were denied the presidency based on his or her birthplace.

The futuristic 1993 film "Demolition Man" joked about a Schwarzenegger presidency after his popularity led to a constitutional amendment. When asked by CNN's Larry King last month if he favored changing the constitution so he could run for president, Schwarzenegger said, "I don't have those intentions, to be honest with you."

But past California governors have developed such intentions: Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown and Pete Wilson all ran for president, with Reagan winning in 1980. Outgoing Gov. Gray Davis was mentioned as a potential Democratic presidential contender before his popularity sank.

With President Bush the GOP standard-bearer for 2004, Schwarzenegger would not have an opportunity to run for president until 2008.

Amending the constitution is a complicated process. First, legislation must pass both houses of Congress by a two-thirds majority. Then it must be ratified by the legislatures of three-quarters of the 50 states, which often takes decades. The Constitution has been amended 27 times, and thousands of attempts have failed.

But a popular amendment can be ratified quickly. The 26th Amendment, for example, was ratified within months in 1971. It lowered the voting age from 21 years old to 18 during the Vietnam War after complaints from teenagers that they could be drafted into the military at 18 but could not vote.

Jack Rakove, a constitutional scholar at Stanford University, said there were great fears about the loyalties of a foreign-born president in the 18th century that haven't completely faded. The best way to approach such an amendment, he suggested, would be if it did not take effect for 20 to 25 years so as to avoid the impression that it was designed for a specific person.

But Snyder said he'd welcome the boost his proposal would get from Schwarzenegger supporters, and would be willing to change the citizenship requirement to 20 years. Snyder's legislation is co-sponsored by three liberal Democrats and three Republicans so far. Among them is Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, a conservative who bankrolled the California recall drive.

"If the people of California want to call it the Schwarzenegger bill, that's fine with me," Snyder said.

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© 2003, San Jose Mercury News Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services