Pelosi leaves door open on question over Cruz's eligibility

Story highlights

  • Pelosi said it was "inside baseball" and a constitutional issue
  • GOP front-runner Donald Trump escalated his attack against Cruz on Wednesday

Washington (CNN)House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wouldn't say Thursday whether she thought Cruz was a "naturally-born" citizen when asked about it at her weekly press conference.

She waved off weighing in, saying it was "inside baseball" and a constitutional issue. But she also made a point of pointing out that Arizona Sen. John McCain -- who was born outside the U.S. mainland in the Panama Canal Zone at a military base -- was born in U.S. territory versus Cruz, who was born in Canada, saying "perhaps there is a distinction."
GOP front-runner Donald Trump escalated his attack against Cruz on Wednesday while the Texas senator sought to move past the hits and maintain his status as a favorite to win the Iowa caucuses.
In separate interviews with CNN, Trump and Cruz squared off over the businessman's comments -- reported Tuesday in The Washington Post -- that the senator's birth in Canada could pose a "big problem." Trump told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Cruz, whose mother was a U.S. citizen, should go to court and ask a judge to rule that he's eligible to run for president.
"How do you run against the Democrat, whoever it may be, and you have this hanging over your head if they bring a lawsuit?" Trump said in an interview that aired Wednesday on "The Situation Room."
For his part, Cruz said he is certain that he never owned a Canadian passport, pushing back sharply on the idea that there is any legal controversy whatsoever.
"Of course not," Cruz told CNN's Dana Bash, as his campaign bus traveled from Sibley to Spirit Lake close to the Iowa-Minnesota border. "Yes, I'm sure. The media, with all due respect, love to engage in silly sideshows. We need to focus on what matters."
He went on: "The legal issue is straightforward," he said, calling it a "non-issue." "Listen, the Constitution and the laws of the United States are straightforward. The very first Congress defined the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad as a natural-born citizen."
Experts largely agree that Cruz, who was born an American citizen thanks to his mother's nationality, is eligible to serve as president. The U.S. Constitution requires that presidents be "natural-born citizens," which Cruz is alleged to not be, as he was born in Canada. Cruz has the backing of most legal experts and U.S. case law, according to a 2011 Congressional Research Service study.