Nightly News   |  August 14, 2010

While BP plugs busted well, Obama plugs Gulf tourism

During a weekend trip to Panama City, Florida, President Obama plugged the region's tourism industry and pledged to stand by the Gulf Coast residents until the region fully recovers from the BP oil spill. NBC's Mike Viquiera reports.

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>>> first lady and their daughter sasha arrived in florida today for a quick trip, just one night in the gulf. the white house late today releasing a photo showing a smiling president frolicking in the waves with his daughter. but on this day, the symbolism of spending time down south where the oil spill has done so much damage was competing with an issue from way up north here in new york. nbc's mike viqueira is traveling with the president tonight. he joins us from panama city beach in florida . mike, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, kate. the first family minus malia who is still away at camp came to florida 's panhandle in part to show tourists and americans at large that it's safe to come back to the coast. but as the president's comments last night and the aftermath of those comment, he and his aides have been dealing with this controversial support for building that mosque near ground zero . even as the first couple and daughter sasha arrived this morning on the gulf coast for a weekend getaway, it is mr. obama's support last night for the construction of a mosque close to new york's ground zero that has proven controversial.

>> i believe that muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. 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.

>> reporter: his remarks at a white house dinner honoring the start of the muslim holy month of ramadan came after white house aides said the president would not weigh in on the debate, calling it a local matter. conservatives, as well as some victims' families, condemn the president's support.

>> it's irresponsible and morally wrong and insensitive to do it. that's an issue the president never addressed.

>> reporter: today in florida , the president spoke out again, appearing to backtrack on his support for the mosque saying, i was not commenting and i will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. i was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. meanwhile, the obamas' visit along the gulf coast comes with a message for beleaguered residents --

>> oil is no longer flowing into the gulf. it has not been flowing for a month. and i'm here to tell you that our job is not finished and we are not going anywhere until it is.

>> reporter: today's visit is as much about pictures as it is about policy. the obamas are expected to set an example for reluctant tourists. visiting gulf hotels and restaurants. early today , the president said he would take a dip tomorrow.

>> i'm definitely going to go swimming but we're not going to let the press pool come because you guys will take a picture of me without my shirt on.

>> reporter: late today, the white house released this picture. mr. obama and daughter sasha . and late today, the president's spokesman put out a statement emphasizing that the president is not backing off his statement about the mosque, simply saying that the government does not have a right to tell any faith where they can build a house of worship . kate?

>> mike viqueira in florida , thank