NEW YORK (CBS 2) — The proposal to build a mosque near Ground Zero hit a whole new level of controversy this weekend when President Barack Obama broke his silence on the issue.
By Sunday morning, the comments had taken on a political dimension. Critics didn’t mince words.
“It was probably the dumbest thing that any president has said, or candidate has said, since Michael Dukakis said it was okay to burn the flag,” Republican strategist Ed Rollins said.
Members of the GOP pounced on the president’s comments, which came just three months before key midterm elections.
“I think it tells you he has a very disdainful view of the American people,” Ed Gillespie, former chair of the Republican National Committee, said. “His favorability ratings have come down.”
The latest flap started Friday at a White House dinner marking Ramadan, when President Obama defended the right of Muslims to practice their religion in America.
“That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan,” Obama said.
By Saturday, the president was clarifying his remarks and distancing himself from any perceived support of the proposed mosque.
“I will not comment on the wisdom of the decision to put a mosque there,” he said.
Democrats defended the president.
“The mosque is an unfortunate situation, but we do have a right to practice our religion freely wherever we choose,” Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said.
“This wouldn’t be a controversy if this was a proposal to build a synagogue or a church,” Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine said. “We don’t prefer people, and we don’t punish people based on their religion.”
Local officials have been sounding off on the issue as well.
“If the imam and the Muslim leadership in that community is so intent on building bridges, then they should voluntarily move the mosque away from Ground Zero,” NY Congressman Peter King, a Republican, said.
“Ground Zero is hallowed ground. Two blocks away, first of all, is not-so-hallowed ground,” Democrat and NY Representative Jerrold Nadler said. “Second of all, we should not – government officials should not – be in a position of pressuring people where to build their mosque or their church or whatever.”
None of CBS 2’s calls to Cordoba House this weekend was returned.