New York Rep. Charles Rangel (D) said Wednesday that some of his colleagues in Congress are trying to "take both sides" on the proposed Lower Manhattan mosque.
The outspoken veteran lawmaker — a supporter of the mosque — was asked by a reporter outside a New York City rally in support of the project whether or not Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) opposed its location for political reasons. Rangel did not directly respond to the inquiry about Reid, but said candidates "are not rational people."
"I don't know, look, would you not believe that I have my hands full in New York?" Rangel responded. "No, I am saying that the issue is politicized. And I do know that candidates — and I include myself — that are running for election or re-election are not rational people. I mean, we don't want anything to interfere with our re-election. And if some pollster comes and says that, you know, five out of 10 people are against this, then we take both sides. You know?"
Rangel offered a candid assessment of the mosque debate, which has divided Republicans and Democrats internally even though members of both parties have tried to use the debate as a political cudgel against one another.
Reid's stance appeared to put him at odds with most Democrats. President Obama has said that he supports the rights of the developers to build the Park51 Islamic center, which includes a mosque. But he later appeared to back away from that statement, saying he was not commenting on the "wisdom" of building it two blocks from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) broke with the majority of his party this week when he backed the rights of the project developers to build on the site.
Rangel — who faces an ethics trial when Congress returns for, authorities allege, violating 13 House and federal ethics statutes — suggested that non-New York politicians' statements on the facility are not necessarily relevant, even though he said it was "politicized."
"And so don't, don't ask what the politicians think. Unfortunately, we get more than our share of publicity, and a lot of people think that we speak for the country, when sometimes we're speaking for a part of that country that's not the proudest population that we have," he said. "And everyone knows that those people, a lot of people don't speak for New Yorkers. Of all of the places to have this, this is the last place that we would believe that we would not have tolerance of religion. Not in New York City. Not in my town."
Video, courtesy of the New York Daily News