As anti-Muslim sentiment is reaching new heights in the Republican primary, one candidate criticized President Obama for visiting a mosque, while overlooking the fact that the previous president did the same.
Speaking at a town hall in Dover, New Hampshire on Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Obama’s visit to a mosque in Baltimore was dividing Americans.
“I’m tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president’s done,” Rubio said, while answering a question about what his management style would be like if he were elected president. “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today — he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there’s going to be discrimination in America of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam. And by the way, radical Islam poses a threat to Muslims themselves.”
Obama visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday to speak on the recent uptick in Islamophobia across the country. The visit was his first to a mosque in the United States during his presidency, although he has visited mosques in other parts of the world.
But Rubio, as well as other conservatives who have criticized Obama’s move, are forgetting one major thing: Obama isn’t the first U.S. president to visit a mosque in the country. Former President George W. Bush, a Republican, visited the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. only six days after September 11, 2001 to similarly decry a rise in attacks against Muslim Americans.
Just as Obama referred to increasing Islamophobia in his speech yesterday, so did Bush during his speech in 2001. “I’ve been told that some [Muslims] fear to leave [their homes]; some don’t want to go shopping for their families; some don’t want to go about their ordinary daily routines because, by wearing cover, they’re afraid they’ll be intimidated,” said Bush at the Islamic center. “That should not and that will not stand in America.”
“Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior,” he added.
Rubio has praised Bush’s presidency repeatedly throughout his career. During an interview with CNN in 2012, Rubio said that Bush “did a fantastic job as president over eight years.” Rubio has also surrounded himself with many of Bush’s top advisers, and he has had a difficult time criticizing some of the former president’s most controversial policies, like the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Of course, Rubio wasn’t the the only GOP candidate who responded to Obama’s visit to the mosque. Donald Trump, speaking on Fox News on Wednesday night, said that “maybe [Obama] feels comfortable there.” In the past, Trump has repeatedly questioned Obama’s citizenship, as well as his religion, implying that he may actually be a Muslim.
Unlike Rubio, Jeb Bush remembered his brother’s visit to a mosque, and commended Obama for doing the same. “I’m happy because I think it’s important for the president to lead in this regard,” he said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Wednesday. “And my brother did it much earlier in his tenure than Barack Obama’s done it in the eighth year. And I’m not quite sure he avoided doing this, but it was appropriate to do it. And sometimes, you have to give someone credit for a job well done.”