Republican Sen. John McCain said Thursday that President Barack Obama is "directly responsible" for the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, because Obama has allowed the growth of the Islamic State group on his watch.
McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, made the comment to reporters Thursday while Obama was in Orlando visiting with the families of those killed in Sunday's attack and some of the survivors.
“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.
When pressed by a reporter, the Washington Post reported, McCain reiterated his point — that Obama should not have withdrawn combat troops from Iraq.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.”
As word spread of his quote, McCain's office quickly tweeted a slight clarification.
As the uproar over his comments continued to reverberate, McCain then issued a statement:
“I misspoke. I did not mean to imply that the President was personally responsible. 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.”
The gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people and injured more than 50 in the attack at a gay nightclub. The 29-year-old Muslim born in New York made calls during the attack saying he was a supporter of the Islamic State. But he also spoke about an affiliate of al-Qaida and Hezbollah, both of which are IS enemies.
In the aftermath of the shooting, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has 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.
Democrats criticized Trump and some Republicans tried to distance themselves from his remarks.
McCain is seeking a sixth term in the Senate from Arizona and is locked in a tight race.
Democrats quickly pounced on McCain's criticism.
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."
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