The White House is pushing back against reports that the president's closest confidants, namely Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, were skeptical of Obama's decision to support the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" in his initial statement on the matter last Friday.
The New York Daily News reported on Wednesday that Obama went ahead with his endorsement despite a lack of consensus among "top political advisers" as to whether it would be wise. "Emanuel," the paper reported, "was one of the skeptics."
Asked for a response, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki stressed that no one on the president's team tried to dissuade him from backing the Islamic cultural center. She emphasized that it was Obama's decision to make the remarks and everyone recognized that he had to weigh in on the debate.
"The president understood the charged political climate surrounding this issue, but felt he had a responsibility to speak to it," said Psaki. "His advisers appreciated that, and there was no effort to dissuade him."
The intrigue over what prompted the president to endorse the project has been spurred mainly by the fact that Obama tempered his support in a follow-up statement the next day. By not commenting on the "wisdom" of building a Islamic cultural center close to Ground Zero (but, merely, acknowledging the right to do so) the administration invited the speculation that it was divided on the matter.
That Emanuel would emerge in reports as a chief skeptic only fueled interest. It was during the heat of the health care debate, after all, that Emanuel was pinpointed as the adviser who, at the beginning of the debate, urged the president to tackle legislation incrementally. Those stories helped frame the chief of staff as the wise pragmatist of health care reform (except that the White House ended up succeeding in getting a more comprehensive package). It also sparked a week's worth of speculation that his office was strategically leaking information to the press.