Sen. Cornyn on mosque near 9/11 site: 'This is not about freedom of religion'

The chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee believes the mosque set to be built near Ground Zero in New York City will be a campaign issue this fall. 

"It demonstrates that Washington, the White House, the administration, the president himself, seems to be disconnected from the mainstream of America,” John Cornyn (Texas), said on Fox News Sunday. "I think that's one of the reasons why people are so frustrated."

President Obama on Friday spoke out in favor of the group's right to build two blocks from where the World Trade Center stood. He and the White House later clarified his remarks to indicate that he did not offer support for the "wisdom" behind their decision.

"This is not about freedom of religion," Cornyn said. "I do think it's unwise to build a mosque in the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as the result of a terrorist attack."

Voters "sense that they’re being lectured to, not listened to" by Democrats, he said. "The American people will render their verdict."

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said the issue will fade as the election approaches.

"I think the overriding issue remains the economy,” he said. "That issue will be the most dominant one to go forward into the election."

 He defended the president's handling of the situation.

"I think he felt he had to … reinforce the fact that he was speaking about basic principles," he said. "I think he emphasized appropriately."

Reed blamed the slow rebuilding of Ground Zero for stoking the controversy.

"Part of the problem, too, is that we haven't moved aggressively in New York City to rebuild the site and to create an appropriate honor for the victims," he said. 

The Democrat insisted the decision to go ahead with the project needs to be made by local officials. 

"It can be there if it operates to foster dialogue, to recognize the commonality of religious principles, but it can't be there — and I don’t think it should be allowed to be there — if it's going to be some kind of way to undercut the truth and reality of 9/11," Reed said. "I think the local officials have made the decision that it's going to operate as a place of religious discourse, not of augmentation."

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) echoed Reed’s belief that the economy would remain voters’ top concern.

“I don’t know if it’s good or bad politics,” Rendell said Sunday on CBS’s Face The Nation. “But I can’t imagine that any American, given the challenges facing this country, is going to vote based on what [Obama] said about the mosque.

“The mosque is an unfortunate situation, but we do have a right to practice our religion freely wherever we choose. Rights are not subject to popular vote or majority vote,” he said.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said Republicans were being hypocritical about their support for Constitutional principles.

“We see an awful lot of Republicans going out and saying, ‘we got to respect the Constitution,’” Kaine said. “That means we have to respect it. We can’t tarnish people’s first amendment rights.”

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said the president is displaying a “condensation toward Americans.”

“It tells you that he has a very disdainful view of the American people,” Gillespie said of Obama’s remarks about the mosque. “And I think that’s one of the reasons his favorability ratings have come down, not just his job approval rating.”

Republican strategist Ed Rollins compared Obama’s statements on the mosque to former Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis saying citizens should be allowed to burn the American flag.

“It’s probably the dumbest thing that any president has said, or candidate has said since Michael Dukakis said it was OK to burn the flag,” Rollins said. “It was very similar.

“Intellectually, the president may be right but this is an emotional issue,” he added. “It’s going to be a big, big issue for Democrats across this country. … Every candidate who’s in a challenged district’s going to be asked, ‘How do you feel about building the mosque on the Ground Zero sites?’”

This post was updated at 11:30 a.m.

More in Campaign

Clinton: 'This is my last rodeo' in politics

Read more »