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Dr. Mehmet Oz, right, at the 2021 US Open tennis championships. The television personality is running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. (AP) Dr. Mehmet Oz, right, at the 2021 US Open tennis championships. The television personality is running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. (AP)

Dr. Mehmet Oz, right, at the 2021 US Open tennis championships. The television personality is running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. (AP)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg December 3, 2021

If Your Time is short

  • The Constitution says who may serve in Congress and sets no bar against dual nationals.

  • There are concerns that holding dual national status creates a potential conflict of interest for lawmakers.

  • There is no requirement to declare if you are a dual national. Some would like Congress to impose that rule.

When Dr. Mehmet Oz, the surgeon turned television personality, joined the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race as a Republican, he quickly drew fire.

It wasn’t for advocating out-of-the-mainstream medical treatments, which he has, but for holding both American and Turkish citizenship.

Former Republican political consultant turned Democrat Steve Schmidt tweeted his dismay.

"A dual citizen cannot and must not serve in the U.S. Senate," Schmidt said Nov. 30.  "He cannot be a candidate until he renounces his Turkish citizenship."

Schmidt told us he wasn’t saying Oz faced a legal hurdle. It had to do with the potential for divided loyalties.

"You want someone thinking of America’s interests," he said.

Turkey is a key player in the Middle East. Its actions affect regional stability, whether that involves the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, Islamic extremists, or the flow of refugees. It is home to two major American military facilities, including dozens of nuclear bombs held at the Incirlik Air Base.

The deaths of thousands of Armenians during World War I is a flashpoint in U.S.-Turkey relations. President Joe Biden called the slaughter a genocide. Turkish President Recep Erdogan called that label "a slander."

The point is, there are plenty of areas where U.S. and Turkish interests overlap, but might not be in sync.

Dual nationals in Congress

To be clear on the law, there is no prohibition against dual nationals serving in Congress.

"The only qualifications for serving in Congress are age, being a U.S. citizen for at least nine years for the Senate, and living in the state you represent at the time of election," said Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

While the campaigns of other candidates for the Republican senate nomination noted that Oz served in the Turkish military, Oz himself talked about his service in a 2011 interview with SJ Magazine.

"I had the privilege, as the son of immigrant parents, to grow up American while staying deeply in touch with my Turkish roots," Oz said. "I have a great deal of family back in Turkey, I lived there for a period as a boy, and I served in the Turkish military, which is compulsory for dual citizenship."

Other candidates have been dual nationals and served. Some renounced their foreign citizenship when it became widely known. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for example, renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2014 when he was a sitting senator.

The Constitution defines who may serve, and according to the Senate’s official history, delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention considered various citizenship requirements.

"No framers advocated a blanket ban on foreign-born legislators," the Senate’s history said. "Instead, they debated the length of time members of Congress should be citizens before taking office."

Benjamin Franklin worried that a strict policy would bog down much-needed immigration and might offend Europeans who backed the Revolutionary War. Those concerns would not apply in 2021, but the rules were set in 1787, and it would take amending the Constitution to change them.

Short of changing the law, one proposal in play is to require federal candidates and officeholders to declare if they hold dual citizenship. Today, they don’t need to say a word on this point. Lawmakers might also be asked to recuse themselves from certain votes.

The goal, said commentator Andy Semotiuk in Forbes, would be to "put everyone on notice that if they hold dual citizenship, they need to stand on guard against weighing in on decisions in which they have an obvious conflict of interests."

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Our Sources

Steve Schmidt, tweet, Nov. 30, 2021

U.S. Senate, Constitutional Qualifications for Senators, accessed Dec. 2, 2021

Congressional Research Service, Qualifications of Members of Congress , Jan. 15, 2015

University of Virginia School of Law, Dual Nationality: TR’s "Self-Evident Absurdity", Oct. 27, 2004

Stimson Center, US Nuclear Weapons in Turkey at Risk of Seizure by Terrorists, Hostile Forces, Aug. 15, 2016

NPR, Biden Calls Slaughter Of Armenians A Genocide, Posing Test For U.S. Ties With Turkey, April 24, 2021

Philadelphia Inquirer, Dr. Oz officially joins the Senate race in Pennsylvania, Nov. 30, 2021

Maryland Law Review, Who Can Be President of the United States: the Unresolved Enigma, Winter 1968

U.S.News and World Report, Ted Cruz: Canadian No More, June 11, 2014

Forbes, Time For New Rules In Washington Dealing With Dual Citizenship, Oct. 28, 2020

Email exchange, Molly Reynolds, senior fellow of governance studies, Brookings Institution, Dec. 1, 2021

Interview, Steve Schmidt, political consultant, Dec. 1, 2021


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