News that Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann has become a Swiss citizen is generating a great deal of water cooler discussion. The Minnesota congresswoman confirmed her dual US-Swiss citizenship to a Swiss television news crew this week.
A large United States flag waves high above the Forest Lake American Legion Post in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District — the district that Bachmann represents.
Inside over the lunch hour, news blares from the television that the woman who represents this area is now a full-blown Swiss citizen.
The Legion Post's patrons display puzzled looks at the news.
"Why would she?" asks Richard McKernon of Forest Lake. He has voted for Bachmann in previous elections. McKernon makes it clear that Bachmann's new Swiss citizenship does not make him less likely to vote for her this fall.
"What has it got to do with me living here in the United States? Nothing," McKernon said. "If she wants to hold that citizenship, more power to her."
But Dawn Person disagrees. As someone who also has voted for Bachmann, Person is not happy to hear about Bachmann's dual citizenship. She indicates it could cost Bachmann her support.
"You should have one citizenship only, and then you should just concentrate on what you are and what your whole political thing is," Person said.
A Swiss television station broke the story of Bachmann's Swiss citizenship on Tuesday, getting a quick interview with the Minnesota Congresswoman and former Republican presidential candidate outside of her Washington office.
Bachmann was standing with a delegation of visiting members of Swiss Parliament.
"What is particularly Swiss about you?" asks a Swiss TV reporter.
The Swiss reporter notes that Bachmann as a full-fledged Swiss citizen could now run for election there, prompting her response:
"Well, as you can see, there's a lot of competition behind me that I would have to run against and it would be very stiff because they're very good," Bachmann said.
On Wednesday, Bachmann's staffers said she was unavailable but they issued a brief statement to explain she has been eligible for Swiss citizenship since she married her husband, Marcus Bachmann, in the late 1970s. Marcus Bachmann's parents were Swiss-born. A recent request by some of the children in the Bachmann family led her to exercise their Swiss citizenship rights.
A spokesman for the Swiss embassy in Washington said Bachmann has technically been a Swiss citizen since the day of her marriage. The spokesman said the Bachmanns applied in February to be registered as a Swiss citizens. Their application was approved in March.
While Bachmann joked about competition she could face running for office in Switzerland and emphasized her fondness for Switzerland, Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier said the Bachmann's story could be problematic for her reelection effort in Minnesota.
"These are not the sort of questions a congressional candidate should be fielding," Schier said.
Bachmann is often accused by her opponents of neglecting her Minnesota constituents in favor of national political ambitions. Her Democratic challenger, Jim Graves, issued a brief statement calling news of Bachmann's dual-citizenship a "distraction." Graves also noted that he and his family are "proud to be Americans."
After Bachmann's long absence from Minnesota during the GOP presidential campaign and congressional redistricting that left her home several miles outside of the district she is now running for reelection in, Schier said it would be better if news about Bachmann related to Minnesota and not a European country.
"At this point it's a distraction, but her opponents will try to make it into a narrative indicating that Michele Bachmann is out of touch with the people of the 6th District because she doesn't live in the district and has now claimed citizenship in another country," Schier said.
Bachmann has been an outspoken opponent of government-mandated health insurance and same-sex marriage.
It is unclear whether as a newly recognized citizen of Switzerland Bachmann will oppose that country's health insurance mandate or its relatively new law that gives registered same-sex partners the same legal rights and protections as married heterosexual couples.