WASHINGTON — Televangelist and one-time presidential candidate Pat Robertson praised former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on Sunday, saying that despite disagreements on social issues, Giuliani would make "a good president."
Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Robertson -- who founded the Christian Coalition -- also said he would be wary of appointing Muslims to top positions in the U.S. government, including judgeships.
His comments on Islam drew a heated response from Muslim leaders, who criticized them as racist and inaccurate.
Another conservative Christian leader, the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, was more cautious in an interview about embracing Giuliani as a presidential candidate, but said he was inclined to agree with Robertson's view of Islam.
The comments came Sunday in the midst of an increasingly caustic debate about the federal judiciary and as some prominent Republicans seeking support from the religious right begin jockeying to succeed President Bush in 2008.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who is thought to be considering a presidential run, is pushing the Senate to vote on all of Bush's judicial nominees, including some conservative jurists opposed by Democrats, who have threatened to use a filibuster to block them. Frist has joined conservative evangelicals calling for a change in Senate rules that would prohibit filibusters of judicial nominees.
Robertson told "This Week" that he didn't think Frist would run for president and said, "I just don't see him as a future president." But he praised two other senators as possible GOP presidential contenders: Sam Brownback of Kansas and George Allen of Virginia, both of whom are well liked by the Christian right.
Robertson acknowledged that Giuliani did not "share all my particular points of view on social issues," but added, "Rudy's a very good friend of mine and did a super job running the city of New York. I think he'd make a good president."
But Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, said that Giuliani would have difficulty drawing support from the GOP base unless he adjusted his views on gay rights and abortion.
Sheldon praised Frist as a potential candidate and said he expected him to run. If Frist is able to resolve the Senate filibuster impasse on judges, that would give the him "an edge" over other conservative candidates, Sheldon said.
Robertson, who launched a brief presidential bid in 1988, said that if he were president he would not appoint Muslims to serve in his Cabinet and that he was not in favor of Muslims serving as judges.
"They have said in the Koran there's a war against all the infidels," he said. "Do you want somebody like that sitting as a judge? I wouldn't."
The comments drew immediate fire from Islamic organizations.
"Pat Robertson has taken his far-right-wing rhetoric to absurd levels," said Arsalan Iftikhar, national legal director for the Council on American Islamic Relations. "He is trying to perpetuate this notion that Islam is a monolithic entity inherently at odds with modernity and democracy. That is absolutely false.... American Muslims have long been contributing members of American society. And I guarantee to Mr. Robertson that Muslims will one day become part of the federal bench -- whether or not he likes it."
Sheldon echoed Robertson's comments on Islam. "I tend to agree with Pat," he said, calling on Islamic leaders to clarify their views.