After some initial confusion about his position, Mehmet Oz said he would give up his dual Turkish citizenship if elected to the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.
“My dual citizenship has become a distraction in this campaign,” Oz told Fox News on Wednesday. “I maintained it to care for my ailing mother, but after several weeks of discussions with my family, I’m committing that before I am sworn in as the next U.S. senator for Pennsylvania, I will only be a U.S. citizen.”
The Republican candidate, who achieved fame for hosting the long-running “Dr. Oz Show,” appeared to signal the exact opposite of this in an interview with a Pennsylvania media outlet, saying he would keep it to be able to care for this mother, who lives in Istanbul. His campaign manager denied that report, which also erroneously implied that senators receive an explicit security clearance. In reality, there’s no such thing.
There’s no law against dual citizenship in Congress, but Oz’s opponents framed his status as a potential conflict of interest. Lawmakers are privy to sensitive information through classified briefings, which they agree not to disclose.
Oz is of Turkish descent on both sides of his family. His parents were born in Turkey and immigrated to the United States in the 1950s. Oz was born in Cleveland, Ohio. During medical school, he served in the Turkish army.
In a heated campaign for an open Senate seat, Oz’s opponent, Dave McCormick, called on Oz to renounce his dual citizenship and questioned why Oz didn’t serve in the U.S. military. Oz, in turn, told Fox News the attacks on his nationality were “bigoted.”
To be a senator, you have to be at least 30 years old, live in the state you intend to represent at the time of the election and have been a U.S. citizen for at least nine years.
Dual citizens have served in Congress, but some, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who was born in Canada, ended up renouncing their non-U.S. citizenship once it became public knowledge. Cruz gave his up in 2014.
Oz talked about his Turkish heritage in a 2011 interview with SJ Magazine:
“The great thing about America is that you can hold on to whatever heritage you come from,” he explained. “We celebrate the different cultures, so I had the privilege, as the son of immigrant parents, to grow up American while staying deeply in touch with my Turkish roots. 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.”