By J. Taylor Rushing and Sam Youngman - 08/17/10 07:51 PM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told the White House he would be disagreeing with President Obama on a controversial mosque near New York's Ground Zero before he went public.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Reid gave the administration an early heads-up, offering a slight peek at the coordination that goes on between the administration and the Senate’s leader.
“We did have a sense that that’s what they were going to do,” Burton told reporters in a short briefing Tuesday aboard Air Force One.
Reid, locked into a tight reelection race against GOP challenger Sharron Angle, had authorized Manley to issue a statement Monday that called for the mosque to be built at a less-sensitive site.
“The First Amendment protects freedom of religion,” Manley said. “Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.”
That made headlines because Obama on Friday had appeared to endorse the mosque’s right to the location. The president specified on Saturday that he was addressing religious freedom and not the specific location on the Islamic center, which is to include a prayer space.
In recent days, Reid has been pressed by Angle to address the mosque controversy. Her campaign issued a statement saying Reid “has a responsibility to stand up and say ‘no’ to the mosque at Ground Zero, or once again side with President Obama.”
Reid is clinging to a slight lead over Angle. A Las Vegas Review-Journal/Mason-Dixon poll from Aug. 9 to Aug. 11 put him at 46 percent to 44 percent for Angle.
Burton said Obama respects “the right of anybody” to disagree with him on the issue.
Pressed on whether there was a disagreement with Reid, Burton said, “Well, the statements are different. What the president said was that he thinks that there's a fundamental right for individuals and groups to be treated equally.
“But the president, like he said on Saturday, didn't comment specifically on whether or not he was pushing for the site to actually be put in that spot. Senator Reid's comment was he thinks it shouldn't be."
Burton said Obama and Reid have different takes on this issue.