COLUMBUS, Ohio President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he had "no regrets" about taking a controversial position on whether a Muslim community center and mosque is built near the site of the September 11 attacks in New York.
Obama, a Democrat, said last week he supported the right of Muslims to build the center near the site known as "Ground Zero."
His comments on Friday night drew criticism from Republicans and members of his own party. Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, broke with the president, saying the center -- which would include an auditorium and a prayer space -- should be built elsewhere.
A national debate has erupted over whether the Muslim center should be constructed two blocks from the site of the 2001 attacks by al Qaeda which destroyed the World Trade Center towers and killed close to 3,000 people.
Democrats fear the issue could become a distraction ahead of November congressional elections in which Republicans are seeking to wrest control of Congress.
Obama, who is finishing a three-day campaign-style tour through politically important U.S. states, told a reporter in Ohio he did not regret weighing into the issue.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, editing by Jackie Frank)