CBS's Schieffer: Obama Right 'Intellectually' on Mosque, Just Bad Politics

Bob Schieffer, CBS Appearing on Monday's CBS Early Show to discuss President Obama showing support for a controversial mosque being built near Ground Zero, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer agreed with the President's sentiment but lamented the political fallout: "The President said and made the right intellectual argument, but I'm not sure that it was great politics for him to say it at this particular time."  

Schieffer began by outlining White House talking points on the issue to substitute co-host Erica Hill: "The story they tell is the President thought this Ramadan dinner – these were dinners that were started after 9/11 by President Bush as an outreach to demonstrate that our problems are with terrorists, not with people who are Muslims – he thought this was an appropriate place to say what all Americans believe, in that everyone has a right to practice their religion in this country." Schieffer later added: "I would agree with the White House."

At the same time, both Hill and Schieffer fretted over the political fallout, particularly Republican criticism. Hill teased the segment at the top of show by declaring that Obama's "apparent defense of the proposed mosque at Ground Zero has Republicans howling." Schieffer remarked: "Republicans are trying to take every advantage of this they can."

Continuing to worry about the political impact of the President's comments, Hill asked: "And this could feed into the criticism of this current administration, that this is an administration that is out of touch, that is, in many ways, seen by folks across the country as being elitist. Is that what you're hearing?" Schieffer replied: "Yes. Well, that's exactly the spin that Republicans are trying to put on it, is that – you know, that the President's not paying attention."   

Earlier, Schieffer described the anxiety of Democratic candidates: "But the response to this has, even from some Democrats, has been, 'why did he have to say it at this particular time and about this particular site?' 'Yes, intellectually that is the correct argument,' they say, 'but is it entirely appropriate at this very special place, to try to link a Muslim worship center with this 9/11 ground?'" He later added: "...a lot of candidates around the country are saying, 'look, with the economy in the shape it's in, we need all the help we can get. And we really wish the President had not said this.'"

Here is a full transcript of the August 16 segment:
7:00AM ET TEASE

ERICA HILL: Political firestorm. President Obama launches a five-state political blitz today but his apparent defense of the proposed mosque at Ground Zero has Republicans howling.

ED ROLLINS: First, Bob, it was probably the dumbest thing that any president has said or candidate has said since Michael Dukakis said it was okay to burn the flag.

7:01AM ET SEGMENT

ERICA HILL: First, though, we do want to get you to this. President Obama heading to Wisconsin this morning. The purpose of his trip, though, could end up taking a backseat to the controversy over the building of a mosque in New York City. CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid has the details.

CHIP REID: The President heads out this morning on a three-day cross-country trip. He'll be talking about the economy and raising money for fellow Democrats. The White House hopes this trip will help change the topic after a weekend of controversy over the President's comments about building a mosque near Ground Zero.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obama & The Mosque; President's Comments Could Derail Economic Message]

The First Family spent a quick weekend on the Gulf coast of Florida, swimming, mini-golfing and boating. The visit was intended to highlight the fact that on most of the Gulf Coast, the water is clean and the beaches are open. But the President's own comments over the weekend overshadowed the trip. Speaking at a White House dinner Friday celebrating Ramadan, the President waded into the already deepening political controversy over whether to build a mosque two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City.

BARACK OBAMA: Let me be clear, as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.

REID: Saturday, the President seemed to back off from his initial comments, saying that while Muslims have the right to build the mosque, that doesn't mean they should.

OBAMA: I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.

REID: White House officials insist the President is not backing down from his original statement, but some Republicans say the White House is trying to have it both ways.

PETER KING [REP. R-NY]: The inference or the clear impression everyone came away with is that he was saying he was supporting the mosque at Ground Zero. And he can parse it later on, and sort of back away, but the fact is, that is clearly the impression, I believe, he wanted to leave.

REID: The White House says the President has no regrets about his comments even though they turned a local issue into a national debate. Traveling with the President, Chip Reid, CBS News, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.    
    
HILL: And joining us from Washington now is CBS News chief Washington correspondent and host of Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer. Bob, always good to have you with us.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Thank you, Erica.

HILL: We know and you know, of course, from talking about this on your show yesterday morning, the firestorm that these comments have ignited, and really, shots coming from both sides. So, why would the President, especially in this time when Democrats are really fighting to hold control of Congress in November, why make these comments at this point?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obama & The Mosque; Will Comments Impact Midterm Elections?]

SCHIEFFER: Well, that's just the question I asked White House officials and some people in the administration last night. The story they tell is the President thought this Ramadan dinner – these were dinners that were started after 9/11 by President Bush as an outreach to demonstrate that our problems are with terrorists, not with people who are Muslims – he thought this was an appropriate place to say what all Americans believe, in that everyone has a right to practice their religion in this country.

But the response to this has, even from some Democrats, has been, 'why did he have to say it at this particular time and about this particular site?' 'Yes, intellectually that is the correct argument,' they say, 'but is it entirely appropriate at this very special place, to try to link a Muslim worship center with this 9/11 ground?' And clearly, Republicans are trying to take every advantage of this they can.

Now, what White House officials say is, 'look, this next election is going to be about the economy. It's not going to be about whether they should build a mosque at Ground Zero.' But a lot of – a lot of candidates around the country are saying, 'look, with the economy in the shape it's in, we need all the help we can get. And we really wish the President had not said this.' The White House will say, 'if you do the right thing, the politics will take care of itself.' Clearly, there are some Democrats who are worried about that, though.

HILL: They are a little worried. And this could feed into the criticism of this current administration, that this is an administration that is out of touch, that is, in many ways, seen by folks across the country as being elitist. Is that what you're hearing?

SCHIEFFER: Yes. Well, that's exactly the spin that Republicans are trying to put on it, is that – you know, that the President's not paying attention. What really bothers some Democrats, though, is that when the President gets into something like this, when he makes a statement like this, it elevates it to a national issue and every single Democratic candidate running for office is now going to be asked about it and will now have to take a position on something that they were hoping they would be able to say, 'this is just a local issue. It's up to the folks in New York to decide what to do about this.' Yes, I would agree with the White House. The President said and made the right intellectual argument, but I'm not sure that it was great politics for him to say it at this particular time.

HILL: Bob Schieffer, always good to have you here. Thanks.

SCHIEFFER: Thanks, Erica.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC