Barack Obama has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats over his backing of a plan to build a mosque near ground zero, the site of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York’s World Trade Center.
Politico quoted several people familiar with the affair as saying that the US president publicly backed the plan despite a warning from Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House communications staffers that he would be “handing Republicans a weapon to batter Democrats as weak-kneed on terrorism three months before the midterms.”
However, the website reported, “Despite press reports to the contrary, none of them counseled Obama to dodge the issue – not even Emanuel, who knew well that the issue could be used a cudgel against moderate and conservative Democrats he helped elect as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2006 and 2008 cycles.”
Addressing a press report that he had opposed Obama’s decision to back the plan, Emanuel told Politico, “Give me a break. We all stand behind and support the president’s decision.”
According to Politico, Obama’s support of the Park51 community center, less than three months before a bitterly contested midterm election, “would have sparked a huge Republican backlash in any event. But the impact of the decision on Democrats, with many frantically distancing themselves from Obama, has given the story real resonance and the longest of news-cycle legs.
“The president’s decision – made with the support of senior advisers Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, his two closest friends in the West Wing – reflected Obama’s forcefulness on issues closest to his heart, a willingness to jettison calculation when core beliefs are in play,” the political news source said.
“But it also revealed Obama’s near-addiction to the teachable moment, a determination to lead his party by example instead of engaging, consulting or even informing the Democratic elites of his actions before acting.”
Democratic aides were quoted by Politico as saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a “San Francisco liberal with a passion for free speech issues”, strongly backed Obama’s position and “neither (Kirsten) Gillibrand nor (Chuck) Schumer (New York’s two senators) were particularly bothered by the lack of a head’s up, according to.
However, the report said, other Democrats were “annoyed” to learn that Obama had told Muslim leaders at the White House on Friday that he backed the Park51 project because organizers “have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.”
“They were even more surprised Saturday, as were West Wing aides, when Obama backed off the comments in an off-the-cuff remark to a CNN reporter, saying he wasn’t weighing in on the wisdom of the project, only the developer’s right to go forward,” according to Politico.