White House: Obama, Reid agree to disagree on mosque

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has no hard feelings for Sen. Harry Reid despite a difference with the Senate majority leader over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, a White House spokesman said Tuesday.

Deputy press secretary Bill Burton said the White House was given a heads-up that Reid was going to come out Monday against locating the mosque and an Islamic community center two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York City.

That put some space between the Nevada Democrat and Obama, who at a Ramadan dinner on Friday defended the right of Muslims to practice their religion.

“That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances,” Obama said.

As Republican critics were seizing on his remark, Obama, the next day, sought to clarify them. He said he was not endorsing the mosque, just commenting on Muslims’ right to worship.

Reid on Monday said through his spokesman he respected Muslims’ First Amendment rights but “thinks this mosque should be built someplace else.”

Asked about Reid’s remark during the president’s flight to Seattle, Burton said Obama “respects the right of anybody — Democrat, Republican, independent — to disagree with his opinion on this. That’s one of the other fundamental rights written into the DNA of our Constitution.”

“We did have a sense that that’s what they were going to do,” Burton said when asked if Reid had notified the White House in advance.

“Senator Reid is a fiercely independent individual; it’s one of his strengths as a leader of the Democratic Party,” Burton said. “So the president feels completely fine that he might disagree.”

Burton resisted saying whether Obama and Reid disagreed on the issue.

“The statements are different,” he said. “It’s a different take on this issue.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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