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Interactive: Proposed mosque spurs controversy

Video: Mosque comments overshadow campaign trail

  1. Transcript of: Mosque comments overshadow campaign trail

    MATT LAUER, co-host: New fallout this morning over President Obama 's comments on those plans to build a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center . And now the Senate 's top-ranking Democrat is branking -- breaking ranks with the president and voicing his opposition to that mosque . NBC 's chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd is traveling with the president. He's in Los Angeles . Chuck , good morning to you.

    CHUCK TODD reporting: Good morning, Matt. Well, President Obama 's in the midst of this five-day campaign swing -- excuse me, five-state campaign swing. He's hit Seattle , Washington , and Columbus , Ohio , today. But he brings with him out West this controversy about what he said about building a mosque a few blocks from ground zero . All of this has made Republicans believe it's an issue they can use on the campaign trail. Gearing up for tough fall election, President Obama spent Monday night in Los Angeles raising money for Democrats .

    Offscreen Voice: President Barack Obama .

    TODD: Earlier on Monday, the president spoke to Democrats at another fundraiser in Wisconsin , presenting a case for his party keeping control of Congress .

    President BARACK OBAMA: This nation is moving in the right direction, we are moving forward, and the most important thing we can do right now is to keep moving forward.

    TODD: But the president's campaign swing is still being overshadowed by comments he made last Friday which appeared to support the planned mosque near ground zero .

    Pres. OBAMA: As a citizen and as president, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes -- 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.

    TODD: The president tried to clarify his position over the weekend, pushing back on the notion he was showing support for building the mosque .

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

    TODD: But the political firestorm burned on, with Republicans sharpening their rhetoric.

    Mr. NEWT GINGRICH (Former Speaker of the House): Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington . We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor .

    TODD: Other Republicans , including some in tough primaries, are trying to take political advantage of the controversy. Florida billionaire gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott launched this new TV ad .

    TODD: Even some Democrats , like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , agreed with that sentiment, saying the mosque should be built somewhere else. But some Republicans believe taking a stance against the mosque could be a political liability over the long term.

    Mr. RICK GERSON (Former Bush Speechwriter): It feeds social conflict , long-term social conflict in America , and it actually undermines our conduct of the war on terror , which can't be conducted around the world without Muslim support.

    TODD: Now, he is going to mix in a little policy when he goes to Seattle , Washington ; though today is primary day in Washington state , so he's also getting an opportunity to campaign with the very vulnerable Democratic Senator Patty Murray , Matt.