WASHINGTON - California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, here for a meeting with fellow governors, told a national television audience yesterday that the Constitution should be amended so he and other foreign-born Americans would be eligible for the presidency.
The appearance, on NBC's Meet the Press, kicked off a whirlwind day during which California's governor was the star - and sometimes the entertainment - at events from a lunch at National Governors Association meetings to a dinner at the White House.
"Wait a minute," said Schwarzenegger as photographers prepared to snap a picture of all 50 state chief executives. "A lot of these guys need makeup."
Asked by Meet the Press host Tim Russert about a constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican, that would allow immigrants to run for president, Schwarzenegger said: "I think that there's so many people here in this country that are now from overseas, that are immigrants, that are doing such a terrific job with the work, bringing businesses here and all this, that there's no reason why not.
"Look at the kind of contribution people like Henry Kissinger has made; Madeleine Albright," he said, noting two former secretaries of state. "There's many, many, many people here that have worked within the government and have done an extraordinary job and not have been born in America."
Pressed by Russert on whether he would try to become president if the amendment were adopted, Schwarzenegger stopped well short of a denial, saying he "had no idea" if he would run.
Hatch's amendment, which the senator proposed before Schwarzenegger ran for governor, would eliminate the Constitution's requirement that presidents be "natural-born" citizens. In its place, the amendment would establish a rule that presidents must have held citizenship for 20 years. Schwarzenegger became a citizen in September 1983.
Schwarzenegger kidded Russert about exercise and plugged his movie Around the World in 80 Days, which is scheduled for release this year.
In response to a question that mentioned the governor's bodybuilding career, he told Russert: "I can tell on your body that this is a whole different ballgame now, Tim. ... Look at your deltoids and your six-pack. It's amazing."
He deflected a question about whether he would sign legislation that would legalize gay marriage, saying "I don't deal with hypotheticals."
Asked about San Francisco's granting of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, he framed the issue as one of enforcing state law: "We cannot have, all of a sudden now, mayors go and hand out licenses for various different things," Schwarzenegger said.
"If it is - you know, in San Francisco, it's the license for marriage of the same sex. Maybe the next thing is another city that hands out licenses for assault weapons. And someone else hands out licenses for selling drugs."
In an apparent message for the White House, Schwarzenegger said President Bush could win over California voters in the November election - but only if the administration sends more federal money to the state.
Schwarzenegger's four-day visit comes just a week before an important test of his young administration. On March 2, California voters will decide whether to approve two ballot measures - Proposition 57, which authorizes $15 billion in borrowing to cover the state's deficit; and Proposition 58, which calls for a balanced budget.