Republican Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he misspoke on Thursday, June 16, when he said that the president was “directly responsible” for the shooting in Orlando, Florida.
When first asked by reporters about the gun control debate that flared up in Washington following the shooting, McCain cited Obama’s foreign policy as a reason for the attack in Florida.
“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it, because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al-Qaeda went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures,” McCain said according to the Washington Post.
When asked by a reporter to clarify why he thought Obama was responsible, McCain said that Obama should not have withdrawn troops from Iraq.
“He pulled everybody out of Iraq, and I predicted at the time that ISIS would go unchecked, and there would be attacks on the United States of America,” he said. “It’s a matter of record, so he is directly responsible.”
In a statement released Thursday afternoon after the comments were publicized, McCain said he “misspoke.”
“I did not mean to imply that the President was personally responsible,” he said. “I was referring to President Obama’s national security decisions, not the President himself. As I have said, President Obama’s decision to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 led to the rise of ISIL.
“I and others have long warned that the failure of the President’s policy to deny ISIL safe haven would allow the terrorist organization to inspire, plan, direct or conduct attacks on the United States and Europe as they have done in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino and now Orlando.”
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) June 16, 2016
The Arizona Senator made the comments to reporters four days after the terror attack in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida which claimed 49 lives. The shooter, Omar Mateen, pledged allegiance to ISIS right before the shooting.
McCain, who was President Obama’s rival in the general election in 2008, has long been a vocal opponent of Obama’s foreign policy, in particular, Obama’s decision to pull troops out of Iraq.
In 2014, McCain called the chaotic state of Iraq the “culmination of failure after failure” of the Obama administration, and warned that terrorists in Iraq and Syria would “pose a direct threat to the United States.”
In response to comments by Obama on the fight against ISIS in 2015, Senator McCain issued a statement saying that the comments “reveal a disturbing degree of self-delusion that characterizes the Administration’s campaign against ISIL.”
In the aftermath of the Orlando terror attack, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump accused Obama of putting U.S. enemies ahead of American’s own people. Trump also has suggested that Obama himself might sympathize with radical elements.
Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski circulated the story about John McCain’s statements around on Twitter.
Democrats were quick to criticize McCain’s statement.
Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, (D-Nev.), said McCain’s “unhinged comments are just the latest proof that Senate Republicans are puppets of Donald Trump.”
Senator McCain is up for a tough reelection year in Arizona, with the latest poll numbers showing a slight lead for his Democratic rival Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) 43 percent to 41 percent, according to Public Policy Polling.