Updated: 10:03 a.m.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested Sunday that President Barack Obama’s comments about a proposed mosque near ground zero in New York will be a campaign issue this fall.
Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Obama’s comments showed a disconnect with average Americans who want to be listened to, not lectured to.
“The American people will render their verdict,” Cornyn said.
Obama said Friday night he supports Muslims who wish to exercise their right to build a mosque a few blocks from ground zero in Manhattan. Obama said America’s “commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”
Cornyn said the decision on whether to allow a mosque on the site was, as Obama stated, a local issue. But Cornyn suggested Obama’s comments went too far.
Cornyn also said he wanted to hear from New York’s two Democratic Senators on the issue.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), speaking on the same program, came to Obama’s defense, saying it was appropriate for the president to speak up in support of religious freedom and that Obama was not endorsing a particular project.
However, Reed acknowledged that Obama didn’t make that distinction clearly enough Friday night, prompting the president to make follow-up comments on the issue the next day “to reinforce the fact that he was speaking about basic Constitutional principles,” Reed said.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) also backed up Obama.
“He was simply stating the principle under our great Constitution is that we do not discriminate,” Van Hollen said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I agree with the president. I think the issue is one for the people of New York City.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), whose district includes ground zero, declined to say whether he was in favor of the site, saying that the only “sensitivity” for building the mosque near ground zero would be if people regard Islam as the culprit of the terrorist attack instead of al-Qaida.
Nadler, also appearing on CNN, said government officials should not pressure the imam about where the mosque should be built.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told CNN that Muslims should be sensitive to public opinion and the outcry of 9/11 survivors and move the mosque to another site.
“They should voluntarily move the mosque away from [ground zero],” King said. “It is such a raw wound, and they are pouring salt into it.”