PANAMA CITY, Fla., Aug. 15, 2010— -- President Obama was in the Gulf today, trying to highlight the end of the oil spill, but that good news was overshadowed by the fiery debate over plans to build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero in New York.
The president plunged into the controversy late Friday when he appeared to endorse the project, saying the group planning the community center had the right to build it there.
"Let me be clear: as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country," Obama said at a White House dinner marking the Muslim holiday ramadan. "That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."
But Saturday he tried to clarify his remarks, when he said he had not meant to address whether it was wise to have the project two blocks from the World Trade Center site.
"I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there," the president said Saturday. "I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That's what our country is about."
As the debate over his remarks has grown, tonight the discussion is whether all of this will hurt Democrats in the November elections.
For months, the president had stayed out of this debate. Injecting himself has provided Republicans a new talking point leading into the November elections.