Republican Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchMedicare trust fund running out of money fast Long past time to fix evidence-sharing across borders Overnight Tech: Facebook's Sandberg comes to Washington | Senate faces new surveillance fight | Warren enters privacy debate 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 ReidSay NO to PROMESA, say NO to Washington overreach Overnight Finance: Wall Street awaits Brexit result | Clinton touts biz support | New threat to Puerto Rico bill? | Dodd, Frank hit back McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns 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.