Republican Pol Warns of Playing 'Political Football' With 'Ground Zero Mosque'

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie chastises both Republicans and President Obama.

August 17, 2010, 11:26 AM

Aug. 17, 2010— -- The Republican governor of New Jersey chastised Democrats and Republicans for using the proposed Islamic center near the site of the 9/11 terror attack as a "political football," in a sharp departure from members of his own party who are intent on making the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" an issue in fall election campaigns.

Gov. Chris Christie's comments contrast those of prominent national Republicans, including Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin who kept up their attack on the proposed project two blocks from where the World Trade Center was destroyed by Islamic militants.

Palin, who previously criticized the planned mosque, took to the airwaves Monday to attack President Obama for saying the Muslims had a right to build there.

"He just doesn't get it, that this is an insensitive move on the part of those Muslims who want to build that mosque in this location. It feels like a stab in the heart to, collectively, Americans who still have that lingering pain from 9/11," the former Republican governor of Alaska said on Fox News.

Her comments echoed those of New Gingrich who compared the Islamic Center's backers to Nazis.

But Christie warned against politicians "overreacting," and he spoke as someone with a closer connection to the tragedy.

Christie served as New Jersey's attorney general following the attacks, and many of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the collapse of the Twin Towers were from New Jersey. New Jersey was also a co-owner of the World Trade Center.

"Given my last position, that I was the first U.S attorney post 9/11 in New Jersey, I understand acutely the pain and sorrow and upset of the family members who lost loved ones that day at the hands of radical Muslim extremists," said Christie at a bill-signing ceremony. "And their sensitivities and concerns have to be taken into account. Just because it's nearly nine years later, those sensitivities cannot and should not be ignored."

He included Obama as among the politicians who he scolded for playing politics with the emotional issue and called for tolerance for Muslims.

"We cannot paint all of Islam with that brush. ...We have to bring people together. And what offends me the most about all this is that it's being used as a political football by both parties. And what disturbs me about the president's remarks is that he is now using it as a political football as well. I think the president of the United States should rise above that."

The govenor said he would not take a public stance on the Islamic center because "I don't believe that it would be responsible of me to get involved and comment on this any further because it just put me in the same political arena as all of them," he said.

Gov. Christie Scolds Obama and Republicans over 'Ground Zero Mosque'

Christie also suggested the project's builders have some compassion, saying the feelings of the 9/11 family members should be given "deference."

He was insistent on not commenting on whether the project should be built.

"I am not going to get into it, because I would be guilty of candidly what I think some Republicans are guilty of, and the president is now, the president is guilty of, of playing politics with this issue, and I simply am not going to do it," Christie said.

"All people in our country suffer when those kind of things happen," he said.

Soon after Obama said the developers of proposed Islamic center, now renamed Park 51, had the right to build, Republicans led by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, criticized the President for being out of touch and said they would use the issue to attack Democrats in tight races.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid became the first Democrat forced by a Republican challenger to comment of the mosque. Sen. Reid, D- Nev., split with the president and said he was opposed to the center being built.

A White House spokesman said today the president did not regret speaking out about the issue, despite the uproar it caused the pressure it created on Democrats in close races.

"He felt it was his obligation to address this matter," White House press secretary Bill Burton said aboard Air Force One today.

New York Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, seemed to indicate the Islamic center should be built elsewhere when he offered to help the developers find a different site for the project. A spokesman for Park51 denied today that any meetings with the govenors have been scheduled.

The Muslim American Society held a news conference at the National Press Club today to support the center's construction and the group's executive director Imam Mahdi Bray called opposition to it "just one more instance of 'Islam phobic' groups opposed to building any new mosques in the U.S."

"How far is too close?" Bray asked, stating that proposed mosques in both Brooklyn and Staten Island were also the subject of protests.

ABC News' Lisa Chinn contributed to this report

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