White House claims politics played no role in Obama's mosque remarks
At least two prominent Republicans are going against the bulk of their party to say that Muslims have every right to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero.
Monday morning, conservative MSNBC host Joe Scarborough found himself agreeing with former Bush advisor Mark McKinnon that Muslims have a right to build the controversial mosque.
"When I was in Congress in 1994, when I got elected in '94, I was considered to be one of the more conservative guys up there," Scarborough said. "I am feeling further and further distant from the people who are running my party."
Scarborough pointed to comments potential GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich made earlier that morning accusing President Barack Obama of "pandering" to Muslims. The president had spoken out Friday in favor of the right to build the mosque, though he also noted the strong feelings opponents have against it.
"Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington," Gingrich said on Fox News. "We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There is no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center," he said.
Reflecting on Gingrich's comments, Scarborough didn't know where to begin. "To suggest that someone trying to build a -- a tolerant center for moderate Muslims in New York is the equivalent of killing six million Jews is stunning to me," he said.
"It's stunning and it is so contrary to our country's principle and the Republican party," McKinnon agreed, then added, "I'm glad to see we're together on this and unfortunately I think we may get our membership revoked at the Pachyderm Club."
"Screw 'em," interrupted Scarborough.
"I agree," said McKinnon.
A poll taken by Fox News Aug. 10 - Aug. 11 found that 64 percent of respondents thought it would be wrong to build a mosque near Ground Zero.
However, a recent Quinnipiac poll "found that 46 percent of Manhattanites support the 13-story mosque and community center, called Cordoba House. Thirty-six percent of Manhattan voters oppose the proposal and 18 percent are undecided."
The Associated Press reports, "A White House spokesman says politics wasn't a factor in President Barack Obama's remarks about building a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York City."
Deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton said it was "not politics" but Obama's feeling that he had the obligation as president to "make sure people are treated equally" under the Constitution.
Obama has said that religious freedom allows the mosque to be built, but without commenting on the wisdom of building one two blocks from ground zero. Republicans have pounded him for his comments, making it a prime midterm election issue.
Burton said Obama "felt it was his obligation as president to address this." Obama was on the way to Wisconsin for fundraising.
Fox News adds, "White House spokesman Bill Burton said that he 'can't speak to the politics of what the Republicans are doing,' but the president was not looking to make political hay with his remarks, which he reportedly considered carefully before delivering them at a White House dinner on Friday night."
"The president thinks that it's his obligation to speak out when ... issues of the Constitution arise. And so, in this case, he decided to state clearly how he feels about making sure that people are treated equally, that there is a fairness and that our bedrock principles are upheld," Burton said.
He added the administration can't control the conversation on cable TV or in newspapers, but the White House has had a "pretty fulsome conversation" about it and has addressed it to a "pretty full extent."
"I think that it's a debate that was had and we've weighed in," Burton said.
This video is from MSNBC's Morning Joe, broadcast Aug. 16, 2010.
Gingrich compares mosque to Nazi's putting signs near Holocaust Museum
This video is from Fox News' Fox & Friends, broadcast Aug. 16, 2010.