Republican Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchOvernight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo Senate GOP gears up for fight over Gitmo transfers House Republicans press case for impeaching IRS commissioner MORE (Utah) this week became one of the most prominent members of his party to voice his support for the Lower Manhattan mosque.
In a local television interview over the weekend, Hatch said developers have the right to build the proposed Park51 Islamic center, which includes a mosque, two blocks from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Republicans and Democrats have used the mosque as a political cudgel against one another, even though the debate has divided powerful members of both parties.
President Obama has backed the rights of the mosque developers to build the facility, citing religious freedom. But he later appeared to back away from that stance, saying that he was not commenting on the "wisdom" of building on that particular site.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidGOP senator: Reid's 'ramblings' are 'bitter, vulgar, incoherent' Reid: We're not breaking the budget deal Overnight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo MORE (D-Nev.) has said that constructing the mosque there would be insensitive, aligning himself with most Republicans.
Hatch broke away from the bulk of his party, comparing the issue to the construction of a Mormon temple in Boston earlier this decade.
The Utah senator acknowledged that public opinion is against building the Islamic center, but he said that should not play a role in the final decision.
"That should not make the difference if they decide to do it," he said, adding that, "I'd be the first" to defend its construction.