Obama’s comments take mosque story national

Aug 14th, 2010 | By politicsnews | Category: Politics

President Barack Obama on Saturday sought to defuse the controversy over his remarks on plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero, insisting that he wasn’t endorsing the specific project but making a general plea for religious tolerance toward all.


“In this country, we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion,” Obama told reporters Saturday when asked about his remarks at a White House dinner marking the start of Ramadan.


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“I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” Obama continued. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about. And I think it’s very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.”


But his comments Friday night were widely interpreted as an endorsement of plans to build a mosque a few blocks from where nearly 3,000 Americans perished at the hands of Islamic terrorists on  Sept. 11 — an interpretation the White House hadn’t disputed until Obama’s comments in Florida.


Already though, Obama’s comments on the Ground Zero mosque have transformed an emotion-laden local dispute in New York into a nationwide debate overnight, setting nervous Democrats on edge and creating potentially dramatic political implications in the upcoming midterm elections.


Key Republicans had leapt to criticize Obama over his comments on the controversial plan, with House Republican leader John Boehner calling them “deeply troubling.” ,


And Democrats — at least the ones willing to comment at all — could barely contain their frustration over Obama’s remarks Friday night, saying they would further complicate campaign efforts by candidates struggling in an anti-Democratic year, particularly moderates in conservative-leaning districts who already are 2010’s most vulnerable contenders.


“I would prefer the president be a little more of a politician and a little less of a college professor,” former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), who once ran the House Democratic campaign arm, wrote in POLITICO’s Arena. “While a defensible position, it will not play well in the parts of the country where Democrats need the most help.”


Obama, himself, had steered clear of the issue for weeks, with his spokesman Robert Gibbs telling reporters that it was primarily a local issue. But at a Friday White House Iftar dinner, Obama said that while he understands Ground Zero is “hallowed ground,” he told a group of Muslims that he believes they have “the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in the country.”


“And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances,” he said. “This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.”


Obama has put Democrats from coast to coast in the tough position of having to weigh in on an issue they would rather duck. Prior to his speech, a few candidates tried with limited success to make the proposed mosque an issue outside of the tri-state area around New York City. Now any Democrat facing an election — less than three months away — can be put in the uncomfortable position of being asked to reject the president’s unpopular stand or side with him.

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