Aug. 18, 2010 -- President Obama today said he had "no regrets" weighing in on the debate over the proposed Islamic center in New York City. Earlier today, Karl Rove, former adviser to President George W. Bush, slammed Obama for chiming in on the New York Islamic center debate and for saying the Republican Party's slogan is "No, we can't."
"The president was better to have signaled a tone of respect for Islam on Friday night without engaging in a local controversy that he previously avoided and after Saturday morning, that he said he'll avoid again," Rove said on "Good Morning America" today.
"He did real damage to America's standing in the world by this inconsistent and incoherent answer that he gave Friday night with a different answer on Saturday morning," Rove added.
Obama said Friday that he believes Muslims have "the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan," but on Saturday said that he would not comment on the "wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there."
Today, when asked by ABC News' David Kerley after an event in Columbus, Ohio, if he regrets jumping in on the debate, the president replied: "The answer is no regrets."
The White House has denied that there was a change in Obama's message. White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said Saturday that it's not the president's role to "pass judgment on every local project. But it is his responsibility to stand up for the constitutional principle of religious freedom and equal treatment for all Americans."
Still, several prominent Republicans seized on Obama's remarks and demanded that the president and Democrats state their opposition or support for the proposed cultural center one way or another.
The debate has also divided Democrats, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying he's opposed to the Islamic center being built on the proposed site, which is a few blocks from ground zero. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, said the matter should be left up to New Yorkers, but that she "respects the right of people in this country to express their religious beliefs in their property." Pelosi called for an investigation into the funding behind the opposition to the Islamic Center.
"There's no question that there is a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some," Pelosi told reporters in California, adding that she wanted to know how this is "being ginned up."
Pelosi's office today released a statement saying that it agrees with the Interfaith Alliance's statement that "there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center. At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center."
Rove said he's worried about the GOP taking Obama's comments too far and damaging the his former boss's and Obama's outreach to the Muslim world. But he blamed Obama for making this a national debate.
"I don't want the mosque to be built there, but I understood this was a local issue that will be settled in New York," Rove said.
Not all Bush administration officials, however, are aligned with Rove. Ted Olson, who served as solicitor general under President Bush and whose first wife died in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, today expressed his support for the Islamic center and said Obama was right in commenting on the issue.
"I think probably the president was right about this. I do believe that people of all religions have a right to build edifices or structures or places of religious study where the community allows them to do it under the zoning laws and that sort of thing," Olson told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. "And that we don't want to turn an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith. And I don't think it should be a political issue."
Karl Rove Slams President Obama
The Fox News contributor, who has faced his share of controversy over the years, also panned Obama for "unpresidential sarcasm."
"He's right to be out there raising money for Democrats, that's how he can help them. But he's wrong to be out there with this sort of unpresidential sarcasm and attempting to be the messenger for Democrats," Rove said.
At an fundraiser for Sen. Patty Murray in Seattle Tuesday, the president found a new line of attack against the GOP.
"You remember our slogan during the campaign: 'Yes, we can.' Their slogan is 'No, we can't,'" he said to laughter from the Democratic crowd. "'No, we can't.' It's really inspiring."
Obama chided Republicans for obstructing the agenda he and his fellow Democrats are trying to push in Washington.
"No on help for small businesses, no on middle-class tax cuts, no on clean-energy jobs, no on making college more affordable, no on Wall Street reform," he said.
Rove argued that the president's delivery only hurts Democrats in what is expected to be a tough midterm election year for many in the party.
"He doesn't make it better for Democrats by constantly being on the stage and by attempting to set the tone for the fall, particularly with this kind of sarcastic and negative tone," Rove said.
The former adviser predicted that, as in the 2006 midterm elections, this year's races would also likely be decided by a narrow margin of votes.
"This election itself could be very close. We're going to find a number of contests settled by a very small number of votes with huge consequences for the political outlook in the country," he said.