The White House has steadfastly refused to weigh in heavily on the debate surrounding the construction of an Islamic cultural center blocks away from the site of the 9/11 attacks, deeming it a local issue that local politicians can and should deal with.
But as the vast swath of national lawmakers -- including a host of likely Republican presidential candidates -- have begun offering their viewpoints, and as the discussion has morphed into a wider debate over the place of Islam in U.S. society, the pressure for more administration input has mounted.
On Tuesday, Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton again declined to detail President Obama's personal opinions on the "Ground Zero" mosque. But he did say that the White House didn't view the anti-Muslim rhetoric that appears to have emerged in the debate's wake to be "dangerous" or beyond the bounds of reasonable discourse.
Per the daily briefing transcript (emphasis mine):
Q Okay, last one. A week ago, Robert Gibbs said he didn't want to weigh in on the mosque issue in New York, he said it was too local of an issue for the White House to weigh in on. But we've now had national figures from both parties, including the majority of potential presidential candidates from the Republican Party, weigh in on this very issue. How come you're so reluctant to actually offer an opinion from the White House on what is pretty much consuming cultural and religious debate going on in this country?
MR. BURTON: Well, this is an issue that has been thought through, that's gone through a process in New York City. A decision has been made, and it's going forward. And we're just not going to be in a position where a local government is going to make a decision that we go in and re-adjudicate.
The President has made clear that we are not at war with Islam, and that we can have these sorts of discussions well within the traditions of openness and religious freedom that our country is based on.
Q Are those discussions moving beyond those boundaries of openness? And are you worried about the anti-Muslim, anti-Islamic rhetoric that's been sort of brought out by this debate?
MR. BURTON: As President, what President Obama can do is make sure that we communicate exactly how we're feeling to the Muslim world, and we're focused on that. But I don't think that the boundaries are shifting in such way that that's dangerous.
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