President Obama may not regret his decision to jump into the Ground Zero mosque controversy, but many of his fellow Democrats seem to feel differently. As more Democrats are ensnared in the controversy, pressure is building on the White House to solve the problem the president created with his remarks.
The chorus of Democratic voices hoping to see the issue go away is growing. There are those who, like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, believe it's just the wrong place to have a mosque. Add to that number former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean who called the plan an "affront" to those who lost their lives, saying in a WABC radio interview: "That site doesn't belong to any particular religion ... So I think a good reasonable compromise could be worked out without violating the principle that people ought to be able to worship as they see fit."
With the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks just over three weeks away, many Democrats who don't have a personal stake in the issue suddenly find themselves deeply invested in its speedy resolution. Some, like New York Gov. David Paterson, are already trying to broker a deal in which the mosque is relocated. Even as she claimed that a conservative conspiracy was behind the widespread opposition to the mosque, Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not speak in favor of the project or defend it in the same way President Obama did last week - only saying that it was a zoning issue for New Yorkers to sort out. Watch the stampede of local politicians in New York running away from Obama and you get a sense of how dire the situation is becoming.
Appearing on "Special Report with Bret Baier" last night, mosque foe and Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol predicted: "Deep down, the Democrats know this is over. And I would suspect they're gonna put some pressure now on the imam and on the developer to pull the plug on this over the next week or so."
Refuting a New York Daily News account, White House told the Huffington Post that there was no effort by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to talk Obama out of delving into the mosque controversy, despite the evidence of a split seen in the president's mixed message the following day when he said he was speaking "in general." No comment, though, on whether Emanuel was, as reported, playing Mr. Fix-it after the statements and trying to keep Democrats from jumping away from Obama. To keep peace within his party and stop his slide in the polls, Obama may now have to lend himself to the efforts to broker a mosque compromise.
When asked by a questioner at a campaign town hall in Ohio if he was sorry he had waded into the issue, Obama solemnly replied: "The answer is... no regrets." The president may feel personally vindicated by his stand, but six days after he lit and then tried to douse the fire, liberals are still dispirited, moderates are still turned off and conservatives are still fired up. And having that happen at a moment when public frustration with Democratic economic policies is at a brisk boil has created a political crisis for the White House. Obama needs to solve the problem soon.
That may be a complicated because today, the imam behind the mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, begins a 15-day goodwill tour of the Middle Eastern nations of Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates for the U.S. government to highlight American religious tolerance. The State Department had scheduled the $16,000 tour before President Obama kicked the mosque controversy into high gear and officials promise that Rauf won't be out raising funds for the $100 million, 13-story facility. As Pelosi pointed out in calling for funding of the opposition to the mosque bears "looking into," many questions remain about the funding sources for the grand mosque project.
There are lots of headlines today about a new Pew poll that shows 18 percent of Americans think Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent last year. That's noteworthy, and that perception will continue to be a problem for a president who's middle name is Hussein and who was raised for a time in a Muslim home. But what should be even more worrying for Obama in the poll is that only 34 percent think he's a Christian, down from 51 percent in 2008. Some 43 percent say they don't know what religion the president follows. Those are shocking numbers. The message from the electorate: Voters don't believe Obama shares their values. That's a dangerous spot
It has become a matter of political necessity for himself and his fellow Democrats that the president find some dignified way out of this mess. As much as Obama obviously needs a vacation, he may have to interrupt his respite in Martha's Vineyard, which starts today, in order to broker a mosque deal.